pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Oh Nineveh

Reading: Jonah 3: 5-10

Verse 8: “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence”.

Jonah has made his proclamation known. For three days he walked around Nineveh proclaiming the coming destruction. The words of his warning – or the power of God behind them – hit home, leading the people to repentance. “From the greatest to the least” they fasted and put on sack cloth, both signs of repentance. When word got to the king he too was moved to action. The king issued a decree. In addition to calling for these sign of repentance, he also declared, “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence”. He hoped that if they changed their evil ways, that maybe in his compassion God might relent. God did have compassion. God did not destroy the great city of Nineveh.

As we consider the application of this passage today, how often are we Nineveh? How many times have we had to repent of our evil ways and our violence? As I consider these questions, I realize that sin is a constant battle in my life. Like the prophet Jonah, the Holy Spirit is ever on duty, proclaiming the coming destruction, calling me away from my sin and into faithful prayer and holy living. The same mercy and grace and love that brings renewal and forgiveness to my life are the ones all people can experience when they “fast” from their sins and “put on sack cloth” as a sign of their humility. This mercy, grace, love, renewal, and forgiveness is something God offers to all people.

Taking another angle, who is your Nineveh? Who is that person or group that most needs God’s transforming power to be at work in their lives? You see, at times we are to be like Jonah too, going to “that” person or to “those” people. We are to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to all people, sometimes even with words. We are to bear God’s transforming power into all the world, even to our Ninevehs.

By the power and grace of God, may we be aware both of the times when we need to repent and to turn from our evil ways AND of the times when we are called to proclaim that to those who are walking without the God of mercy and grace. May we each faithfully live out both sides of God’s love.

Prayer: God of grace, humble me and convict me when I am living in sin. Walk me to your throne and lead me to kneel there, in that place of love. Use me today to help others to know that place of love so that they too can know your healing and renewing power. Amen.


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The Divine Heart

Reading: Luke 1: 47-55

Verses 52-54: “He has… lifted up the humble… filled the hungry… remembering to be merciful”.

As we read this beautiful song offered up by Mary, I can’t but wonder if the baby in her womb and connected to her heart heard these words and began to internalize them. As a young man Jesus would have been raised by this faithful soul. He would have been taught the faith by Mary and Joseph, learning of how God loved the people and of his great mercy towards them. In her song Mary also personalizes these aspects of God – “called me blessed”… “done great things for me”. In her song Mary glorified both the God of Israel and the God of her heart.

Towards the end of the song Mary recognizes God’s preference for the lowly and meek, for the simple and ordinary. Mary’s God is one who “scatters the proud” and “brings down rulers”. In Jesus’ ministry we certainly see evidence of these actions being lived out and we hear of their completion in his return. In verses 52 through 54 Mary glorifies her God who “lifted up the humble… filled the hungry… remembering to be merciful”. Again, Jesus will live out the heart of his mother and the heart of his God as he ministers to the poor, the lost, the broken, the least, the sinners.

The divine heart clearly connects to and values and loves those who are suffering, those on the fringes, those without power or voice. Just as Mary sings, the divine heart has always loved and cared for such as these. You and I were created with this spark of the divine within us. We hear it beating in Mary’s song and we feel it beating in our own hearts. May we live it out each day.

Prayer: God of the outcast and marginalized, help me to draw close to those you love. Lead me to be your hands and feet and voice in our hurting world. Use me as part of your desire to bring healing and hope. Amen.


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Seeing Jesus

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-46

Verse 45: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”.

Today we again wrestle with this teaching. In the agriculturally based world of Jesus’ day, all would understand the need to separate out one flock or herd from another. There were times when you just did that. This practice continues today everywhere farming or ranching is done. For Jesus’ audience the idea of separating the sheep from the goats would not raise an eyebrow. The “why” is what makes his audience pause. It is what makes us take a pause. This makes us uncomfortable. It makes us squirm. It gives us an uneasy feeling in our soul. These things are part of following Jesus.

One of the points of this teaching is that we are to care for our brothers and sisters. In this sense it mirrors the second great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is a familiar command to most every Christian. We do not always succeed, but we all understand that loving all of our neighbors is part of the gig. Today, though, Jesus goes deeper. In verse 45 he says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”. When we have failed to love those who are hungry, thirsty, lonely – the least – we have done so because we failed to see Jesus in them. How could Jesus Christ be in the addict? In the homeless? In the murderer? He is there because each of these is just like us – created in the image of God, born with a spark of the divine within us. Jesus may not be readily evident in such people. But, hey, once in a while, folks have a hard time seeing Jesus in you and in me. Yet Jesus is still there. We are all and ever will be a child of God. If we all saw Jesus in every single other person, we would be much better at feeding, clothing, and including the least of these. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, fill my heart so with love that it colors all I see. Give me eyes that see you in others first, and only then, to see the hunger or other needs. The hunger… are just things. The person is your son or daughter, Christ’s brother or sister, my brother or sister. Help me to live this truth out more fully. Amen.


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“L” is for…

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-40

Verse 40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”.

In today’s passage Jesus sounds a bit like an Old Testament prophet. His words and what I imagine his tone to be evoke visions of Ezekiel or Isaiah. Jesus is once again speaking of heaven and hell. Passages like this naturally bring to our mind the question: am I in or am I out? Reading this passage I’ve often fallen into these ways of thinking. In my rule-following mind it was and sometimes still is hard not to feel some condemnation when I read this passage.

Jesus is clear in the overall message today. There is a right or faithful way to live with one another. Therefore, there is also a wrong way. The right way is to care for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned. The wrong way is to ignore them, to not care for them. In verse forty we read, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”. In verse 45 we read the result of failing to care for such as these: “you did not do for me”.

Reading this passage we can tend to think: Am I a sheep or am I a goat? The judge living inside of us can easily start to scroll through our lives, weighing the evidence for and against. The ‘in or out?’ question can become a balance scale of sorts. But then I stop and ask: does this align with the Jesus we see in the Gospels? Can you really see Jesus judging you this way when you one day stand before him? This is not the Jesus revealed to me in the New Testament or along my faith journey.

Then what is the point of the teaching? We cannot simply toss it or skip by it because it makes us uncomfortable or because it causes us to wrestle with our faith and how we live it out. In a way this was the underlying point of all of Jesus’ teachings. These words were spoken by the one that always calls us deeper into relationship, deeper into loving God and one another. So what if this teaching is about a way to live, about a rule of life? Jesus was one who sought to connect to the least, the lost, the last, the lonely. What drove him to do so was another “L”: love. Yes, the ideal is to always care for others, in whatever form that may be.

I struggle less with this parable than I used to. Now I see it as the model that Jesus set. I still fail at times. I don’t always feed the hungry… I do not always visit the lonely… But I do strive to love each to the best of my ability and capacity – to the best of my faith. When I fail, the Holy Spirit always goes to work within me, leading and prompting me to love deeper the next time God presents an opportunity. I am a work in progress. I’d guess you are too. May the shepherd continue to lead you and me.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for a heart that yearns to love more each day. Guide and lead my heart to be more and more like yours. Amen.


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Compassion

Readings: Psalm 29 and Psalm 72: 1-7 and 10-14

Psalm 72, verse 4: “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”.

Beginning in Psalm 29 one feels the glory and strength and splendor of God. There is power and might in God’s voice. It is like thunder that breaks the cedars and strips the forest bare. God’s voice thunders over the waters and the whole earth. David closes by remembering that the God who resides far above us, the one enthroned forever, will also give strength and blessings of peace to his people.

Turning to Psalm 72 Solomon adds depth to God’s character. For Solomon, God is a God of justice and righteousness. The powerful and somewhat distant God of the heavens in Psalm 29 is also a God that cares personally for the afflicted. In Psalm 72, verse four, we read: “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”. Those that many in society will look past or over, God sees and will intervene on their behalf. God incarnate, Jesus in the flesh, echoes this compassion for the outcast and downtrodden. Jesus often speaks of feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoners… In Matthew 25 Jesus even defines such actions as part of the sorting process for admission into eternal life.

Even though God and later Jesus are compassionate and loving towards “the least of these”, in our world today this just does not seem like a high priority for most Christians. There seems to be plenty of time to go hunting or to a sporting event or ten, but when the call goes out to be in mission at the jail or to serve a meal to those in need, the line is noticably shorter.

Too often our busyness feels consuming and too easily becomes the excuse we give when the voice of the Holy Spirit comes calling. Think about all the passages in the Bible that speak of the times that Jesus was too busy to heal the blind man or to build faith in one who came at night or… Oh ya – there aren’t any. There shouldn’t be any in our lives either. May it be so.

Prayer: Compassionate God, your heart goes out to the needy and it is closely followed by your hands. The heart of Jesus always had time for the powerless and the outcast. Make my heart more like that too, O God. Pour your heart into mine. Amen.


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Compassion and Love

Reading: Luke 13: 14-17

Verse 16: “Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham… be set free… from what bound her”?

Jesus heals on the Sabbath, elevating this woman’s need over keeping the law. Compassion and love lead Jesus to action. This “work” on the Sabbath makes the synagogue leader “indignant”. One definition of this word is: “feeling or showing anger because of something unjust or unworthy” (Merriam-Webster). From our viewpoint, healing the woman is neither unjust or unworthy. The leader paraphrases one of the Ten Commandments, basically saying to come be healed on the other six days.

Jesus addresses the leader’s indignant heart. He begins by reminding all there that they care for their animals on the Sabbath, meeting their basic needs. He then extends the idea to someone much more worthy of care: the woman. Jesus says to all there: “Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham… be set free… from what bound her”? If you care for your ox or donkey on the Sabbath, how much more should you care for a child of God? The religious leaders are shamed, as they should be. Jesus’ point is obvious. The crowd recognizes this, expressing delight in Jesus’ actions. In our hearts, we too cheer for Jesus.

The Sabbath was a day set aside to worship God and to renew the body. The woman was able to do both because Jesus reached out to her. Sometimes in our worship we too are led to deeper love and compassion. Perhaps the message or the scripture or a song or prayer time may trigger action in you. Maybe a “least of these”, like the woman, will be placed on your heart by the Holy Spirit. If so, may you practice love and compassion today, helping another closer to God this day.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your story of love and compassion today. Help me to see beyond the surface today and to engage those who need healing and wholeness. Amen.


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Serving God, Serving Others

Reading: Mark 9: 33-37

Verse 35: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all”.

The disciples are arguing about something we can argue about from time to time. As kids, we all argued with our siblings about who was our parents’ favorite. As we got a little older, we discussed who was the teacher’s or coach’s favorite. As we entered into adulthood, the discussion took place most often in our heads. Whenever we did voice our opinion concerning someone being the favorite, it was usually a manner of complaint or gossip.

Unfortunately, most people want to be #1. Some express this by being large and in charge. Some simply want to be the one others look to. Deep down, we all want to be important, to matter. Society teaches us that worth is in our possessions, our titles, our status. This equates out to being the greatest. Faith runs counter to these values and ideas. Knowing what the disciples were arguing about, Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all”. If you want to be the greatest in God’s kingdom, be the last to consider yourself, be the first to offer yourself in humble service to one and all. How counter-cultural this is. What a radical way to consider greatness.

To drive His point home, Jesus has a child stand among them. In His day, children were at the bottom of the social and familial ladder. Jesus tells His disciples that when we welcome one of these – the least – we welcome Jesus and we welcome God into our lives. When we feed the hungry, visit the sick and the lonely, clothe the naked… then we are serving our needs last, we are being the servant of all. In the process, we often see the face of God in those we meet.

Lord God, this day may I seek to be last instead of first. May I be a giver and not a taker. May I be a person of humble faith, not a person of aloof religion. In all I do and say, maybe serve you as I serve others. May it be so each day. Amen.


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The Foreigners

Reading: 1Kings 8: 41-43

Verses 41-43: “As for the foreigner… who has come from a distant land because of your name… when he comes and prays… then hear from heaven”.

Solomon is making a request that we all want to make. He hopes that God’s name spreads and that people outside of his nation will come to pray to God. His request of God is to hear their prayers so that foreigners know and fear the Lord. I am not sure, but I’d guess Solomon’s hope comes more from the perspective of more people knowing God than from God’s name becoming famous or from enlarging the nation.

In our lives we all want to think that we welcome in the foreigners and strangers amongst us. We want to think that the least, the lost, and the broken, the poor and the fatherless – when they get up the courage to step inside our churches – that they will feel welcomed and loved. We, like Solomon, hope that God hears their prayers and answers them so that a relationship with God begins to form. And then, if they are to come back the next Sunday and seem inclined to become a part our community of faith, then we expect them to be and look and act just like us that next week. So when the foreigner returns next week they still look a lot like a homeless man or an addict or a teenage single parent or… and we realize that this could be messy and hard. The welcome becomes just a little less welcoming.

Yes, in our heart of hearts, we want all people to come to know God and Jesus as Lord and Savior. Yes, we want all people to find a community of faith where they can find fellowship and a place to worship God. We are just not always sure that we want it to be at our nice and tidy church and in our fellowship of perfect sinners. It is difficult to really pray this hope that Solomon expresses for those in our communities who are the foreigners to us. It is even harder to live it out. Yet when we look to our example, to Jesus, we see this is exactly how He practiced ministry. To all who came, Jesus offered welcome and love and a place at the table. To all who came, Jesus ministered to their needs. To all who came, Jesus extended relationship. It did not matter who the foreigner was – tax collector, prostitute, Samaritan, demon possessed, adulterer, thief… As we strive to live out Solomon’s hope for the foreigner, may we follow Jesus’ example, loving and welcoming all.


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Going Out

Reading: Acts 1: 1-11

Verse Eleven: “Why do you stand there, looking into the sky”?

The book of Acts opens with a brief recap of the forty days after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It reviews how Jesus offered “convincing proofs” that He was alive and it reiterates His promise to send the Holy Spirit. The disciples then ask when Jesus is returning to restore the kingdom of Israel. Yes, they are still thinking of earthly kingdoms instead of the heavenly kingdom. Again, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus is taken up into heaven and the disciples stand there staring up. Two angels appear and ask, “Why do you stand there, looking into the sky”?

The angels indicate that Jesus will come back. But the implication in the question is ‘stop staring, it is time to get to work’. There is much to be done, so let’s get busy. Much needs to be accomplished before Jesus returns, so let’s get to work. Quit standing around staring at the sky.

I wonder how often God thinks thoughts like these today. How much of our time is spent staring up at heaven instead of engaging the work that needs to be done down here? How much time do we spend each day in prayer and personal study and how little time do we devote each day to the acts of mercy that Jesus so often called His followers to?

Nothing builds itself. While it is wonderful that we Christians spend our “alone time” with God each day, we must spend at least that much time spending “face time” with the lost, least, and broken of this world. No one will come to faith and experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promises without someone first introducing that person to Jesus Christ. It is essential to go outside of our churches to find those who need a saving relationship with Jesus. They are not coming to us. We must go to them.

Each and every day may we look down and around us, seeking to be kingdom builders, going out into the world to share the light and love and hope if Jesus Christ with a world in need. Amen.


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Serve

Reading: John 12: 20-36

Verse 26: “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be”.

Today’s passage from John is about sacrifice or giving of oneself. Jesus begins with the familiar illustration of the wheat kernel. If it remains on the stalk it remains just a single seed. If it is picked it is ground and becomes flour. Only when it falls into the ground does it die and produce more seeds. This is the natural cycle of life for seed-bearing plants. It is the cycle of life that mankind has observed for years. This concept is very familiar to Jesus’ audience and even to us in the ‘modern’ world.

Once Jesus has us at a good level of understanding, He goes on to parallel this with our faith journey. He basically says that if we hold tightly to life in this world, eventually we will lose it all. But if we are willing to allow self to die to the things of this world, then we will find true and eternal life. It is similar to the seed’s journey. Only when we are able to live life beyond ourselves and this world and its desires for we gain real life. Jesus goes on in verse 26 to say, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be”. When our lives focus in on serving Jesus as His followers, then we are ever with Him. This is a here and now as well as a forever promise.

When we live as a servant in the here and now, we experience Jesus all the time. Sometimes it is as we are His hands and feet, doing for others, that we sense His presence in us. And once in a while we are blessed to see Jesus in those we serve. It is a beautiful reminder that we are all God’s children. It is a wonderful reminder that as we do for “one of the least of these”, we do it for Jesus himself.

Jesus sets for us the ultimate servant’s choice this week. Later this week, on Good Friday, Jesus will give His life for us. He will fall into the tomb. But He will not remain there. On Easter, Jesus rises and walks out of the grave. He defeated the power of death and invites us to do the same. Through faith in Christ we too can gain eternal life. It is a glorious invite. Until we receive our final call, may we love and serve Him in this world. Verse 26 finishes with, “My father will honor the one who serves me”. May it be so for each of us this week!