pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God Calls

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.”

In today’s passage we read about the call of Jeremiah the prophet. In the first few verses of Jeremiah 1 we learn that Jeremiah was a priest in a small town in the land of Benjamin when he was called. The Babylonian empire was nearing Israel and Judah. There was a great need for religious reform. King Josiah was trying to begin the needed reforms. A prophet was needed. God asked Jeremiah to fill this role.

For the past two weeks I’ve been writing and preaching about our gifts and how God wants us to use our gifts to share the good news and to build the kingdom of God. This call is very similar to the call that all prophets received, including Jeremiah. In verse five we read, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” These words are true for you and me too. They are true for all people. Before anyone is knit together in the womb they are a thought in God’s mind. Before anyone is born, God has a plan for them. All people receive an invitation to live a life set apart for God. Many fight and reject and deny this invitation and the spark of the divine inside of them. Over time the spark grows dim, the call becomes fainter. Yet God continues to call.

When God called, Jeremiah found excuses. We do too. When God calls into our lives, nudging us to use our gifts, we often ignore it or try to get out of it. If we can’t ignore it we try and tell ourselves that we’re too busy, too old, too young, too inexperienced, too whatever. To the excuses of Jeremiah, God said “nonsense.” God says the same thing to our excuses. God formed us, set us apart, and appointed us for service in the kingdom of God.

Our world is a difficult place right now, one full of sorrow and suffering, one in deep need of God. As God calls us, may we follow, trusting in God’s leading and guidance.

Prayer: Lord God, the needs are many, the pain deep. Help me to see where you are pointing me, to go to those you want to send me to. Guide me to step out in trust. Use me as you will. Amen.


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A Constant Prayer

Reading: Psalm 19:14

Verse 14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

These words are probably familiar to you. This prayer of David is often recited just before the pastor or priest offers the message or sermon in church. This prayer invites God into the process and also reminds us who God is. Used this way, the prayer asks blessing on the words spoken and it invites the listeners’ hearts to a welcoming and receptive place. We are also reminded of two of God’s key characteristics. God is our rock, our foundation, our strength. Each time we give or receive the word of God, we are building on that rock. Each time we acknowledge that God alone is our salvation, we give or receive the word with thanksgiving and rejoicing in our heart. It is good to invite God into the process.

These words could also be used another way. What if they were not exclusive to sermon time? What if we used this prayer as a part of our everyday life? Imagine how different our interactions and our relationships would be. If we prayed these words before speaking at meetings and gatherings, before conversations with family and friends, before hitting “send,” imagine how our lives and world would change.

David used these words more in the everyday sense. It was a constant prayer, offered often. I invite you to consider using these words of prayer often too. Claim and live into these words in the week ahead. If they make a difference in your heart and in your relationships, keep using them. Blessings on the journey.

Prayer: God, help me to use these words more than just on Sunday morning. May this prayer become a regular part of my everyday life. Amen.


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Choose to Accept

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12:27-31a

Verse 27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it.”

Photo credit: Taylor Smith

Continuing today in 1st Corinthians 12 Paul concludes his call to unity. Paul once again reminds the church that all matter and that all have a role to play: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it.” All of the people that make up the church in Corinth (or anyplace else) are valuable and essential parts of the whole. Paul is drawing them away from the comparison game that we so easily fall into.

It seems natural for us to compare ourselves to others. The world judges by quantity over quality so much of the time. Society equates the bigger house, the loftier title, the greatest number of followers and so on with success and power. It begins early in life. By about first grade we learn to look around to see who got the best score on the spelling test or we note who gets picked first in gym class. The comparison game only grows from there if left unchecked, if not countered.

After lifting up about 9 of possibly hundreds of roles played in the church, Paul points out that not all are teachers or administrators or… Not all are cooks or toilet cleaners or financial stewards or VBS shepherds or… And just as the body wouldn’t be what God designed it to be without ears or eyes or hands or feet or…, so too is the church best when each person being chooses to be a part of the body of Christ.

This mentality or belief that all matter, that all are valuable, is countercultural. This rule of life that Paul is preaching is rooted in the teachings given by and in the example set by Jesus. From the very people he recruited to the way he treated all he met to the humble acts of service he gave, Jesus was countercultural too. In our passage today Paul is calling us to this countercultural faith. May we choose to accept the invite and may we transform the world with it.

Prayer: Lord God, teach me to value all people and to see and help develop what makes them each an important part of the body of Christ. Amen.


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The Better Way

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12:12-26

Verse 18: “In fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as God wanted them to be.”

Photo credit: Sigmund

Our time in 1st Corinthians 12 this week begins with these words: “The body is a unit… made up of many parts… they form one body.” This description fits all churches, some to a greater degree than others. Even in churches that appear very homogeneous, each person is unique, individual. In churches that appear very diverse, each person is unique, individual. In all churches, though, the call is to be unified in and around Jesus Christ.

Paul uses the parts of the hunan body to demonstrate the unity and connections and interrelatedness that should be found in all churches. Our body needs hands and feet, eyes and ears, and so on. One part is not more valuable than another. All are needed. The same is true in our churches – each part matters, each part has equal worth. Each part should have equal concern for the other parts. It is or should be this way because “in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as God wanted them to be.”

In some ways this statement of Paul’s reminds me of when mom or dad used to say, “because I said so.” Things should be such and such a way because they said so. While we might have gone along with it right then, we soon deviated. The same is true in most of our churches. We know that God loves all people and that we should too. But each person is unique, individual. We can find a million reasons to separate and divide – looks, worship style, dress, ethnicity, economics, politics, vocation… Yes, we can find the reasons. Or we can choose the better way, the way God designed us to be as the church – loving, welcoming, unified in and around Jesus Christ. May it be so in us and in our churches.

Prayer: Lord God, give me eyes to see and appreciate and value our uniqueness, our individuality. And give me a heart to truly love each part in all its uniqueness and individuality. Doing so, draw the church, each church, closer to your design. Amen.


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We Too Need to Pray

Reading: Psalm 19

Verse 8: “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.”

David begins Psalm 19 by reminding us how creation reveals the glory of God. From the skies filled with stars to the sun “running its course” like a bridegroom, the movements of creation speak of God’s power and might. In their own ways, all of creation worships God. The natural world reminds us of our right relationship with God.

In verses 7-9 David extols the value of God’s laws. In these verses David describes God’s laws as “perfect… trustworthy… right… radiant… pure… sure.” The outcomes of following God’s laws are “reviving the soul… making wise the simple… giving joy to the heart… giving light to the eyes… enduring forever.” In verse 11 David adds, “By keeping them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” How true. Following God’s ways is good and right. This path benefits our life greatly. But it is not always easy to walk in right relationship with God.

David had his struggles with sin, just as we do. In verses 12-13 he asks for forgiveness for his “hidden faults” and for protection from “willful sins.” The hidden faults would be unintentional sins – like when I hit my finger with a hammer – and sins that are only visible in our hearts – unkind thoughts, jealousy, anger, pride, lust… The willful sins are those sins that come to life: anger that leads to lashing out, jealousy that leads to unkind words. Willful sins are also those that we consider, know we should resist, and give in to anyway: joining the gossip circle, cheating on our taxes. Yes, we too need to pray for forgiveness and for God to be a shield about us. May these be our prayers today.

Prayer: Lord God, I know there is no better way than your way. There is such joy and blessing when I walk in your way. When I slip, when I begin to stray, draw me back onto your path. When I stumble and fall, be quick with your love and mercy and forgiveness. Guide my path, protect my heart and mind. Amen.


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Remember, Live Out

Reading: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Verse 10: “Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing.'”

As we turn to Nehemiah this week we step into the time period where the return from exile has begun. A small group returned and rebuilt the altar and temple. Ezra the priest came next, giving spiritual direction and some encouragement to those who were rebuilding. Nehemiah was then sent by King Artaxerxes to empower and spur on the rebuilding of the walls and gates. Despite opposition from those who had moved into the area during the exile, the walls were rebuilt, bringing security and a sense of peace to the Israelites. In today’s passage the people can now turn their attention to rebuilding their spiritual foundations.

Ezra reads from and explains the Law to the people. The people listened attentively and responded with “Amen”! The word of God was calling the people back into a faithful walk with God. The people wept and mourned. They cried tears of joy and tears of sadness – tears of joy for the hope and love that God was offering, tears of sadness for their time in exile. Joy for what could and should be for God’s people; sadness for what was instead. These themes were often a focus of one of our nation’s recent prophets – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today we recognize and celebrate the life of a great man of God. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of justice and equality, of the hope and joy of truly living into God’s vision for the kingdom here on earth. With this vision in mind, Dr. King worked to end injustice and discrimination, poverty and oppression. These are characteristics of all great men of faith. In our passage today, Nehemiah demonstrates these characteristics. In verse 10 we read, “send some to those who have nothing.” Care for the poor and needy. This was not just a one-time concern because of a verse that Ezra has read that day. Earlier, in chapter 5, Nehemiah puts an end to the wealthy and powerful taking advantage of the poor and needy. It was and is against God’s Law to treat others unjustly. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., and another prophet that we know well, Nehemiah stood for those without voice or power. These men understood God’s vision for all of humanity. They understood that faith,justice, love, equality, hope, and kindness must be the foundations for not only our faith but also for the kingdom of God here on earth. These remain the foundations yet today.

Nehemiah recognized his responsibility to lead with those without in mind. Jesus came and upheld the cause of the downtrodden, the outcast, the marginalized. Today we celebrate a modern prophet who led as these and many others have led, with the love of God as his power and with “the joy of the Lord” as his strength. May we too ever remember and live out our call to solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable, with the outcast and the marginalized.

Prayer: Lord, I am thankful for the reminder today of what your kingdom on earth should look like. Nudge me, prod me, poke me… remind me over and over to act and speak on behalf of those held down, pushed aside, made to feel less than. In and with your love and strength, empower me to be a kingdom builder. Amen.


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Incarnate Love

Reading: John 2:1-11

Verse 1: “A wedding took place at Cana… Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited.”

Photo credit: Paz Arando

Soon after calling his first disciples we find Jesus at a wedding. There must have been a family connection because Jesus’ mother is there too. Some people may find this passage odd or troubling. Maybe it’s the fact that Jesus is at a wedding party; maybe it’s the miracle itself. Yet both of these things point to a Jesus who is present amongst all of life.

A wedding? Jesus and his disciples are guests at a wedding? That would be like a pastor meeting a friend for dinner at a local sports bar. Turning water to wine? This is Jesus’ first miracle? Well, that would almost be like the pastor offering to pray for the waitress who seems to be having a really bad day. Jesus is Jesus everywhere he goes. Jesus meets people where they are at and he ministers to them in that place. He doesn’t let it go with a quick invitation to church. As the presence of Christ in the world, shouldn’t we be the same as Jesus?

Maybe those servants who saw the miracle or those who soon heard about it weren’t devout Jews. Maybe some were Gentiles. Maybe this intervention of faith was the first seed planted. Maybe it’s the first new seed for that friend and the reminder seed for that waitress – to see and experience faith in real life. Small acts of faith can begin to pry open hard hearts. Sharing the love of Christ can begin to warm and draw back in anyone. As we seek to follow in Jesus’ way of love, may we be incarnate love to all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, all were within your circle of love. All you met encountered divine love. Draw my circle wider. Grow my ability to love as you loved. Amen.


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Rich and Beautiful

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12:1-11

Verse 11: “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and the Spirit gives them to each one, just as the Spirit determines.”

We return today to 1st Corinthians 12, where Paul lifts up some of the gifts that the Spirit gives. There are many other gifts or “fruit” of the Spirit – qualities or talents bestowed upon people, all to enhance or further the work of the body of Christ. As I wrote about earlier this week, all gifts were given for the “common good.” At the same time, though, the varieties of gifts can cause division instead of unity.

Division and factions seem to be the order of our day. If you are not on our side or of our opinion or just like us, then you are bad, the enemy, evil. As a people – not just as churches or denominations or even nations, but as a whole – humanity has digressed, regressed, become less than we used to be and certainly less than God designed us to be. Under the banner of individualism we’ve forgotten that we as truly so much better together. Under the hammer of tolerance we have grown blind to the fact that all people (no matter their color, gender, faith, wealth, education, vocation…) are valued and worthy and sacred.

In our homes, churches, and society is a rich and beautiful diversity. It is just as God designed, created, and drew into being: “Through Christ all things were made; without him nothing was made” (John 1:3). Who or what are we to see God’s creation and then to draw lines, barriers, dividers? Whether gifts, service, or activities, “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and the Spirit gives them to each one, just as the Spirit determines.” The Spirit works first in the way of love, leading out as Jesus led out. As followers of this Jesus, may we too use our gifts and talents to build each other up, to draw outsiders in, to let all people know they are loved by God and by those who walk in Jesus’ footsteps.

Prayer: Lord God, first gives me clearer eyes and a heart of love. Then create in me a more committed servant’s heart. Lastly, send me out into the world with a renewed love, using the gifts and talents that your Spirit blessed me with to be love poured out. Amen.


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Your Love, O Lord

Reading: Psalm 36:5-10

Verse 5: “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

As we turn once more to Psalm 36 this week we are reminded today of the scope of God’s love. In verse 5 we join the psalmist in praising God for the love and faithfulness that extends as far as we can imagine. Then we rejoice in God’s righteousness – a righteousness that is stronger than the mightiest thing we know: mountains. And then we celebrate God’s justice – a justice that has more volume than the most vast thing we know: the oceans. God’s love, faithfulness… is not just for us. It extends to “both man and beast”. All of creation “feasts on the abundance” and takes “drink from your river of delight”. The scope is all-encompassing.

In our day we need to not only be reminded of these truths – we also need to practice them. This has always been the case. It is how Christians witness to their faith. In the really early church, when a plague swept through the Roman Empire, it was the Christians who cared for those that families set out in the streets to die. In times of hardship and trial, it continues to be people of faith who show up at their neighbor’s house with food or other needed items. At work or at school, it is faith that leads believers to reach out to someone that is hurting or is alone, bringing comfort, letting them know that they too are loved.

In the closing verse of our passage the psalmist asks God to “continue your love to those who know you.” As we not only remember and rejoice in God’s love, faithfulness… but as we practice it too may we ever be filled with these things so that we can pour them out into the world.

Prayer: Lord God, I know the depth and width of your love for me. I too know that love is for all people. Help me this day to share that love with one who does not know it. Amen.


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The Common Good

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12:1-11

Verse 7: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

Chapter 12 in 1st Corinthians is the beginning of the portion of Paul’s epistle that speaks of unity in the body of Christ. Paul begins by reminding those in the church of who they used to be: “pagans… led astray by mute idols.” It was not a good place to be. I can see heads nodding in agreement. Then Paul 180’s them with “Therefore…” Therefore, quit reverting to what you once were, quit being a curse to the community of faith.

Paul reminds them that, yes, there are different gifts, different ways to serve, different activities that allow us to live out and exercise our faith. He reminds them that these all come from the same Spirit/Lord/God. Getting to why this all matters, Paul says, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” First, each has been given gifts – the manifestation of the Spirit in them. Not some, not most, not a few. Each and every one has been given gifts. And the purpose of the gifts is for the common good.

This “common good” term is a bit foreign in this modern world, just as it appeared to be so in the church in Corinth. When one chooses to focus on the common good it is an intentional choice to be selfless, to elevate others above oneself. A person with the gift of healing, for example, would not just heal themselves nor would they charge others to receive this gift, gaining personal wealth. Instead, this person would generously share the gift with others, bringing God all the glory and attention. Doing so, this person would be a blessing to God and to their community. Each person, generously using the gifts that the Spirit gave, would grow together in faith and love. This was and is the ideal. For each of us, may we do our part to make this a reality.

Prayer: Lord God, first, thank you for the ways that the Spirit has blessed me. As my grateful response, guide me to be generous with others, giving to them as you lead me. Amen.