pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Steadfast and True

Reading: Jonah 3: 1-4

Verse 2: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you”.

Today and tomorrow we will look at Jonah’s calling and at how the sinful city of Nineveh responded. Just as Samuel was called and just as we are called, there was no mistaking God’s call upon Jonah. God wanted to use Jonah for a specific purpose. Unfortunately, I am sometimes like Jonah – a little reluctant, a lot influenced by my own sense of what is right or who is worthy of God’s love. Remember Jonah’s initial response to God’s call? He ran in the opposite direction. Spit out on the shore, this is God’s second attempt to use Jonah to save Nineveh from its sins. In verse two God directs Jonah: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you”. God’s message to Nineveh is like Paul’s message to the church in Corinth. Like Paul was in 1st Corinthians 6, God is direct with his message: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned”.

Sometimes this is how I need God to talk to me: short and direct, not much wiggle room, hard to misunderstand. Sometimes I need words that communicate the gravity or importance of the message. Just as we will see with the Ninevites tomorrow, God’s direct and clear message compels me to action. It is in these moments that I hear and feel God’s love and care for me. It would surely be easier to just let me continue off on my own path. It would be easier to let Nineveh continue down the road to self-destruction. But this is not God’s nature. God loves all of creation and wants to see all redeemed, all brought within his abundant love and gracious care. So God, like with Nineveh, pursues us. Often God pursues us over and over, just like he did with Jonah.

God is steadfast and true. His love never fails. His pursuit is endless. Being reminded of all this today, knowing once again of God’s love and care for all people everywhere, may we respond by going where we are led today. May we hear the call and may we bear God’s love and care to the people and places where God sends us.

Prayer: Lord God, it is good to be reminded of your steadfast love and grace and mercy. Open my ears to your call and my ears to where you want to send me. Guide my hands and feet to share your love and care and mercy with others. Amen.


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God’s Design

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5:11

Verse 11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”.

On our faith journeys, we can try and go it alone. We are embarrassed by or ashamed of our sins and failures. We go through the motions of faith and pretend we are doing okay when our faith feels dry or when a trial has beset us. We try and push through seasons of doubt because society tells us we just need to try harder. Our pride and ego refuses to ask for help. But God did not design faith to be this way. God designed faith to be a communal pursuit. Yet if we are to truly be a part of the community of faith, if we are going to have real and deep relationships, then we must be honest and transparent, authentic and vulnerable, committed and compassionate.

Our passage today is just one verse. Again, it reads: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”. Because the world is challenging, because the dark and evil are ever present, Paul knows that the believers need to be surrounded by Christian community. Paul begins by telling us to encourage one another. To be able to encourage one another, we need to really know how we each are doing. This is where honesty… comes into play. We must be willing to share our burdens with one another. We must also be willing to carry another’s burdens at times. We must be willing to tell others when our faith feels thin, allowing them to pour into us and to fill us up. Similarly, we must be willing to give of ourselves, to pour into another as we are able. Paul also urges us to build one another up. We do this by sharing our faith. This can be actual teaching or it can be living the faith so others can see what it looks like. Pastors and teachers and small group leaders and mentors are all a part of this process. We also build one another up by being present. We celebrate successes and achievements, we rejoice when a baby is born, we bring food and love and presence in times of hardship and suffering and loss.

The church in Thessalonica was living as a community. It was how God designed the church. As we ponder these thoughts today, may we each consider how we could encourage and build up the body of Christ this week.

Prayer: Living God, lead me by the power of the Holy Spirit to be an encourager and a builder. Help me to see the ways that I can help the community of faith to be like a family, like the heavenly fellowship that we all await. Bind us together in 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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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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Rise and Go

Reading: Luke 17: 11-19

Verses 12-13: “Ten men who had leprosy… stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us'”.

In our passage today, Jesus has compassion on a group of people living on the edge of society. The lepers are forced to live outside of the village. They are cut off from society. The disease they have has separated them from family and friends. The isolation causes them to call out to Jesus from a distance. The lepers have learned to stay isolated. Jesus simply directs them to go to the priests. As they demonstrate obedience, they are healed as they went. For these people who have been living outside of society, outside of the synagogues and the temple, to take steps toward these people and places – it must have been so hard. As they trust, they are healed by Jesus.

When our lives have been spotted by sin, we too can have a hard time taking those first steps back towards God. Until we get to the point where conviction leads to repentance, we can keep ourselves isolated from God. As people of faith, though, we know that we can repent and find mercy, grace, forgiveness, and restoration. Like the lepers, as we take those first obedient steps to confess and repent, we are cleansed of our sin and we are made new again. Praise be to God, right?

Yes and amen! Of course. But that cannot be all. Like the one leper who returned to Jesus, we too must have some responses. The first is to praise Jesus, to thank him over and over for the many works done in our lives. The second is to help others experience the healing power of Jesus Christ.

Our story of what Jesus has done for us is the story of what Jesus has done and can do for others. We each first live this out in our day to day lives, being Christ in the world. Our lifestyle is our first form of evangelism. But our story is also unique and specific. There are individuals out there that need to hear our story. This is our second response. To a fellow addict, to a fellow absentee father, to a fellow nominal Christian, to a fellow divorcee, to a fellow… our personal story of faith can bring those who are where we once were hope and new life. The leper was told, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well”. This too is our charge. May we live and tell our story well.

Prayer: Lord my God, thank you for your hand that has guided me, redirected me, convicted me, saved me. Your love for me is so amazing. Give me opportunities to share that love with others. Amen.


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Rock of Refuge

Reading: Psalm 71: 1-3

Verse 3: “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go”.

The opening three verses of Psalm 71 exude trust in God. The psalmist first turns to God as refuge. A refuge is a safe place that we can go to. It is a place where we can rest and recover a bit. It is a place set apart from the storms of life. God can be our refuge.

We all feel the need for refuge now and then. Life may have brought unexpected change and we need a moment to catch our breath and to figure out our new path forward. Our faith or our beliefs may cause us to feel some persecution and after a good bit of this we need to find refuge to regain strength and maybe focus. There are many other reasons we can seek refuge in God.

Because God is righteous, the psalmist asks God to rescue and deliver him. He begs God to hear his pleas. In the storms of life we can feel under assault. We can feel the need to be rescued. Sometimes we bring the storm upon ourselves. When we allow sin to gain a foothold, we invite the storm. When conviction sets in and leads to repentance, we hope to be delivered by God.

In the last verse for today the psalmist calls out to God, saying, “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go”. In those moments or days or seasons when life is really swirling around us, we need a firm foundation. We need God to be our rock. Because life keeps happening, we will turn to God over and over to be our rock. We join the psalmist in seeking a steadfast God to whom we can always go.

As our section for today closes there is an admission that we too must make. The psalmist knows that God alone can save him. There is a dependence upon God that comes through faith. May we too know this need for God.

Prayer: Lord God, in the trials and sufferings of this life, you are my only hope. Be with me day by day and hour by hour, my rock and my refuge. Amen.


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God’s Call

Reading: Jeremiah 1: 4-10

Verse 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”.

Today we hear God’s call on a young Jeremiah. It is a call to be a prophet to the people of God. Jeremiah is living in a time right before and into when Jerusalem falls and the people are carried off into exile. The people’s unfaithfulness leads to being conquered and taken into exile. It is into this situation that God calls Jeremiah. The call begins with these words: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”. In these words we clearly hear that God has long had a plan for Jeremiah. Even before his body began to form in the womb, God knew him and had identified him as a prophet. That is a powerful call.

Jeremiah immediately tries to avoid the call. How like Jeremiah we all are! Jeremiah tries to put up two barriers to serving. He does not know how to speak and he is just a child. We too can quickly come up with reasons. We tend to do this much more quickly than we say ‘yes Lord’. Whether the call is a momentary call, like helping out a neighbor one afternoon, or if it is a call to full-time ministry, we too can find lots of reasons to not answer the call. Many times I have not stopped to help or engage someone the Spirit is prompting me to serve. I’m too busy, there is something more pressing… The reasons come so easy. Often I have chosen not to give when I could have or to volunteer when when I had both the time and the ability.

When I began to feel the call to leave teaching to become a pastor, the decision was hard to make. It required trust in God and it took a step of faith. God kept working on me, gradually leading me to take the step. After we made the decision, my wife and I told our three children. The oldest, then in college, simply said, “It’s about time”. It was one more reminder that, like Jeremiah, God knew me and had appointed me to serve his church.

Each of us hears God’s call upon our lives over and over. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ invites each of us into ministry with him. Whether as a pastor or school teacher or business person or coach or retired person or… God calls us all and leads us all into service. In whatever way God has created and equipped us, we are all called to follow Jesus’ commission to “go and make disciples of all people”. May we each answer the call today.

Prayer: God, thank you for where you have called me. The road is not always easy, the task is often challenging. Yet thank you for where you have planted me. I know you walk with me. Help me each day to be faithful in the small things that build up your kingdom here. Lead and guide me. Amen.


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Led by Compassion

Reading: Luke 10: 29-37

Verse 36: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers”?

Traditions and stereotypes are great influencers. They are a part of life. Growing up we inherit and learn about the world and people around us from our parents and families. Systems and institutions also influence us as we begin to go to school… These influencers can be good and they can be bad. We can learn to be compassionate and generous, to be honest, to work hard, to be a person of faith. We can learn to be selfish, to take advantage of others, to be prejudiced and biased.

In this familiar parable, the priest and Levite both pass by on the other side of the road. Depending on the influencers that we grew up with, their action can be seen poorly or as acceptable. These two men are also products of the families, groups, and institutions that they grew up in. Most certainly they too felt compassion for the man. Who wouldn’t? But the stronger force was the years and years of training and teaching that said to avoid becoming ceremonially unclean. It would break a law. Life for them was all about their position and living within the guidelines of the law.

I too have been guilty of passing by someone I could have helped. The “law” of ‘don’t be late for work’ has led me to pass by on more than one occasion. The “law” of ‘you have something more important to do, someone else will stop’ has also led me to pass by. Stereotypes and being judgmental have also led me to pass by at times. This parable is so hard because we’ve all walked many times in the shoes of the priest and Levite.

We do not know much about the Samaritan. We do not know if he was rich or poor. We do not know if he was a Godly man or if he worshipped idols. What we do know is that he allowed the compassion that all of us would have felt to become what drove his decisions and actions. He invested both time and money in caring for the one in need. We do not know much about the Samaritan, but we do know that if we were in Jesus’ story, we sure hope we’d stop too. It is a matter of choice. The lawyer knew who the neighbor was. So do we. Jesus encourages the lawyer to “go and do likewise”. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord, you call me to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you. Fill me with compassion for those in need. Lead me to stop and care for those I meet today. Amen.


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Freedom and Wholeness

Reading: Luke 8: 26-38

Verse 27: “When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man”.

Our story today is a story of fear. The demoniac is afraid of what Jesus might do to him and the townspeople are afraid of the same thing. Our story today follows another story of fear. In a raging squall the disciples fear they will die. Jesus is awakened and he calms the storm. He then asks the disciples, “Where is your faith”?

In verse 27 we read, “When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man”. The man is possessed by demons, so we can say he has no faith. Yet the demons recognize Jesus and the power that he has over them. If the man himself were able to speak, he would surely plead with Jesus to free him from this legion of demons. But the man is not in control. He has not been for a long time. Now the demons realize that they are not in control.

We read in our passage that at first the townspeople tried to chain the demon-possessed man hand and foot and kept him under guard. But the chains were broken over and over and then demons drove the man to live in isolation out in the “solitary places” – the tombs outside of town. The townspeople probably really appreciated this, except when they had a burial. Then they would have to once again encounter the demoniac. It is by no coincidence that Jesus goes where the world would rather not go. Jesus meets the man right where he is at, both physically and spiritually.

The demons fear Jesus’ power and rightly so. They do not want to return to the Abyss, so they beg to be sent into the pigs. Rather than return to hell, the demons end their existence by drowning themselves in the lake. Mercifully, Jesus allows this. The man is free. The townspeople find him clean, dressed, and sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening. It is an amazing restoration to wholeness that leads to fear of Jesus, not to engagement or even interest on the part of the townspeople. They ask Jesus to leave.

Sometimes the power of Jesus feels like too much. The Bible is full of these stories. We were once at this point ourselves. Many are there today. The idea of freedom in Christ is a little enticing but the power of wealth or the draw of the addiction or the fear of surrender is too great. We know folks who are struggling to take that step towards Jesus. Unlike the demons in our story, their demon tells them that Jesus has no power, that Jesus cannot make them whole again. May we be willing to cross that “lake”, to go to them where and how they are, to share our Jesus and the story of how he set us free.

Prayer: Lord, give me the courage to go across that lake, to be willing to engage those that others would rather not. Grant me words of healing and hope. Amen.


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Go

Reading: 1 Kings 19: 9b-15

Verse 9b: “What are you doing here”?

Earlier this week I looked at verses 1 through 9a in this same chapter. To review quickly, Elijah angered the queen, fled in fear, and was cared for and guided by God to the cave on Mount Horeb. In the morning, God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here”? This is a question that I think God asks often.

Fear and worry and doubt and job fatigue led Elijah to flee – to hide from the world. I can relate to some of these emotions and to Elijah’s response to them. Once in a great while monastic life seems like a great idea. His loving God leads Elijah to a safe place, to a cave atop a mountain, far away from his enemies and from the world. Until God asks this question, the cave is a comfortable place for Elijah.

When I retreat it is not usually to a cave or to any other physical place. When I do retreat it is usually into myself. In those moments when the world seems against me or when it seems to be closing in, I withdraw emotionally. In my mind I disconnect. I try and create felt distance and separation. But soon enough, God asks, “What are you doing here”?

Elijah has a response. He has been thinking about it. He knows the question is coming. This process is familiar to me too. Elijah tells God that he has been “very zealous for the Lord God Almighty” – I’ve been working really hard for you God. And these people – these Israelites – they have broken the covenant. Why would I want to be with those sinners? And then the ice cream atop the cake – “I am the only one left”. Woe is me. Have you been here? I certainly have.

The God says, in essence, ‘Come here. Come here Elijah’. Elijah goes to the entrance to the cave and the noise of the world passes by. The wind, the earthquake, the fire – those are the threats of Jezebel, the fears of the world, the self-pity. Then Elijah hears a gentle whisper. Ah, God has arrived. It is significant that God comes in the calm, in the quiet.

But once again Elijah tries the “I’ve been so busy…” excuses. God simply says, “Go…”. Return to the world, go where I am sending you. I will be with you. God knows we will stumble and falter too. God says the same thing to us: go, go where I lead. I will be with you. God continues to lead Elijah every step of the way. God will do the same for us. So, go.

Prayer: God, in those moments when I too doubt or fear or feel wrung out, come and push me back out into the world. Use me for what you will. Strengthen and encourage and fill me for the task at hand. Help me to ever step forth in faith. Amen.