pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Way of Peace

Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5

Verse 5: “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

Photo credit: Kyle Johnson

In our Old Testament reading God brings Isaiah a vision of what will come to be concerning the people of God. He begins with these words: “In the last days…” The people of his day looked forward to these hopes becoming their reality. God’s people have been looking forward to this day for about 2,800 years. It is a long time coming.

In the vision Isaiah sees God’s temple, the holy mountain, established as the tallest around. Light a light upon a stand, all will be drawn to God’s home. With joy and celebration people will exclaim to one another, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.” The anticipated worship will draw all people to God. God will teach people the way of peace. There will be no more war. God will settle all disputes. In this new era of peace the weapons of war will be turned into tools used to care for and provide for one another. This day that is coming will be a glorious day.

As we look forward to this day, are we to wait passively? Indeed not! God casts a vision of this day to come so that we can work towards making peace a reality now. We begin by living God’s peace in our hearts and in our lives each day. We model what it looks like to settle disputes and we choose to lay down our armor and to cease the words and actions that lead to conflict and discord. We learn to speak and live love. Doing so we will teach others the way of peace. As our lives and witness invite others into relationship with the Lord, we proclaim to all, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

Prayer: Lord God, praise be for this beautiful picture of what will come to be. Use me to help create a world that reflects this vision, that works for peace now. As we pray each Sunday, on earth as it is in heaven. Use me to build and to develop and to teach peace now, within our hearts, within our lives, within our world. Amen.


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Invitation to Love

Reading: Luke 19:1-6

Verse 5: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

Today and tomorrow we look at the story of Zacchaeus. This is a very familiar story. It even has its own song! In the story, Jesus is passing through Jericho, Zacchaeus’ home town. But it is not like home. Zacchaeus is a tax collector. He is in partnership with the Romans. The heavy taxes that they demand are collected by people like Zacchaeus. And a perk of the job was the power to collect a little extra for oneself. This double strike against him is what led Zacchaeus to climb the tree. Besides being short, being in a crowd might not have been good for him. Tax collectors were that hated.

As Jesus comes along, he paused at the tree. He looks up and calls Zacchaeus by name. To one who was probably disliked by even his own family, Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” The one who was hated and despised by many is loved by Jesus. Isn’t that just like Jesus? It was the same with all from the margins – the woman at the well, the lepers, the one caught in adultery, the demon-possessed. If this is Jesus’ way of being in the world, shouldn’t we too model this kind of behavior?

To that point, who do you know that is out on a limb, that is down in the gutter, that is struggling with poverty, or that is otherwise existing on the fringes of society? And more importantly, how will you invite them into your love and into Jesus’ love?

Prayer: Lord, who is it that you want me to see today as I pass by? Open my eyes and my heart today to really see, to really love. Use me today to show someone that they too are loved. Amen.


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Faithfulness

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4:16-18

Verse 17: “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the gospel might be fully proclaimed.”

Photo credit: Jean Wimnerlin

As we join Paul again today in 2nd Timothy 4, this section begins with a story of abandonment. Much as it was with Jesus when he stood before Pilate, no one is there to support Paul. In the verses between yesterday’s and today’s passages, Paul comments on those who have abandoned him and he asks Timothy to come visit. Paul, like all of us, values company and support in difficult times. Graciously, Paul asks that the fear that held them away not be held against them.

In the next verse, Paul boldly identifies who was present, who strengthened and supported him as he stood before the emperor. In verse 17 we read, “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the gospel might be fully proclaimed.” Paul felt Jesus right there by his side. He drew on a strength that was not his own. Now, standing before the emperor – one who was well known for his violent responses to any and all who opposed him – Paul could have quietly offered “yes sir” and “no sir” responses. Not Paul. We read that he fully proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ right then and there. And instead of being whisked away for a quick and sudden death, he was “rescued from the lion’s mouth.” Paul survived to preach another sermon, to live another day.

This boosts Paul’s faith and his trust in the Lord. This is what allows him to write with confidence that “the Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” What a great example of both God’s faithfulness and of Paul’s faith that trusts fully in the Lord! May we strive to live out such trust and faith this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, when I find myself in unfavorable times and places, may my faith not waiver. May I be as bold and courageous as Paul, trusting fully in you and standing surely on my faith. Bring me too through the trials. Amen.


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Be Thoroughly Equipped!

Reading: 2nd Timothy 3:14-17

Verse 14: “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.”

As we shift today to our Epistle reading, the word of God continues to be the focus. Paul’s charge to Timothy is to “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.” Timothy has been raised in the faith. His grandmother and mother have taught him the stories of faith and have lived their faith out as a model for him. Paul and others have taught and modeled the faith for Timothy. Paul encourages Timothy to keep learning and to keep building on the solid foundation of faith that has lovingly been built in him.

Next Paul points toward scripture – toward the word of God – as that which will “make you wise for salvation.” For Timothy and for almost everyone in his day, the scriptures were taught in oral form. Paul and others with an advanced education likely read from actual scrolls. The priests read and taught from physical copies of the Old Testament. Jesus’ life and teachings were just beginning to be recorded at this time. Letters to churches and to individuals were the only written “scripture” in circulation at the time.

Continuing on, Paul reminds young Timothy that “all scripture is God-breathed and useful.” To hear or study it, to meditate on it, to apply it to ones life, to teach it to others – this is Paul’s charge to Timothy. It is our charge too. The word of God helps our faith to grow and to keep on the right path. It corrects and rebukes us when we stray or sin and it leads us back into right relationship. Be in the word, Paul says, “so that the [woman or] man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God, thank you for the written word that I can go back to again and again. I need to. Over and over. These are the words of life. Lead me and guide me each day as I spend time in your word. Thank you. Amen.


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Radically Different Love

Reading: John 13:31-35

Verse 35: “By this all will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

As Jesus begins what amounts to his closing words or final instructions to the disciples, he starts with the most important point: love one another. All that Jesus said and did was rooted in love. This was the one emotion that arched over all of his ministry. For those that walked with Jesus and for those who seek to walk in his footsteps, love remains the central facet of discipleship.

As the disciples began to process “as I have loved you,” it might have meant something slightly different to each disciple. In a similar way, as ones who read the gospels, a teaching or an action of Jesus may stand out as the example of loving others. Or maybe a few form our basic picture of what loving as Jesus loved looks like. And the longer we walk with Jesus, the more we study and emulate his life, the more complete our picture and practice of his love becomes.

This love that includes widows and orphans and other outcasts, this love that includes those who harm and wrong us, this love that includes those hard to love – this love is the mark of a follower of Christ. Jesus’ love is radically different than the world’s limited, conditional, me-centric love. So when we truly love one another as Jesus loved us, the world will notice. May it be so for you and for me today. May we love extraordinarily well today.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to offer radical love to others. May I love as you loved – unconditionally and completely, without limit or barrier. Use me today to reflect your love to a world in need. Amen.


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Seek to Praise

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 13: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted.”

Psalm 148 is pretty thorough about who and what is to praise the Lord. Those to be included are the angels and all of the “heavenly host”, as well as kings, princes, rulers, young men, maidens, old men, and children. What is included are sun, moon, stars, sky, sea creatures, lightning, hail, snow, clouds, wind, mountains, hills, trees, wild animals, cattle, small creatures, birds. You get the picture – all of creation is to praise the Lord. Why all? Because God created it all. Because God loves it all.

You and I – we are included in that list. We fall within “all.” So why do or should we, along with all of creation, praise the Lord? First, it is our response to God’s love for us. In love, God created every single one of us – unique and in Christ’s image. Individuals yet connected together through Christ. In love, God sacrificed his son for us. In love, God seeks to be a part of our lives. In response, we love God back by offering our praise and worship and adoration.

Second, it is one thing that God asks of us. Our covenant and faithful God asks us to live out our love. We are called to steward and love all of creation. We are charged to love one another as Jesus Christ first loved us – to model the depth of Christ’s love to one another. (More on that later in the week!) This too is a form of praising the Lord.

This day and every day, may all we say and do and think be an expression of God’s love as we seek to praise the Lord with all that we are.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the magnificent and awesome creator of all things. As creator, you love all of your creation. Help me to do the same. Amen.


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Justice, Equity, Righteousness

Reading: Psalm 99:1-5

Verse 4: “The King is mighty, he loves justice… equity.”

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Psalm 99 is a song of God’s faithfulness, holiness, and justice. It calls us to worship God and it reminds us of God’s actions on behalf of the people of God. The psalmist opens with, “The Lord reigns.” For all who believe, this remains true. As the Psalm continues we read, “Great is the Lord in Zion.” At the time, that meant Israel, where God’s “chosen people,” the Jews, lived. Today “Zion” is many places. It is everywhere and anywhere that those who love and worship God are found.

In verse four we read, “The King is mighty, he loves justice… equity.” The psalmist continues in this same verse, noting that God has done “what is just and right.” The heart of God has always been bent towards justice and to equity, to what is right. Today ‘right’ seems to be a subjective term in many ways and places. But in God’s kingdom it is living according to God’s ways as defined and exemplified in the Bible. To me, this way of living is best exemplified and modeled by Jesus.

God in Jesus has a heart for those experiencing injustice, inequality, marginalization… Over and over Jesus was drawn to these people and situations and those experiencing these unrighteous things were drawn to Jesus. He saw their plight, their struggle, their suffering and he offered healing, wholeness, life in community… Jesus loved them as they were and sought to restore and redeem them and/or their situation.

God remains the God of justice, equity, righteousness… As God’s hand and feet and voice in this world, we are called to see and be drawn to the lives and places where these things are missing, lacking, inadequate. In love, may we walk with and minister to these, bringing God’s restoration, healing, and wholeness. May it be so.

Prayer: O God of all people, lead me to live and love as Jesus did, with a heart for the vulnerable and the hurting. In all I say and do and think, use me to build the kingdom that you desire here on earth. Amen.


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Love and Connection

Reading: 1st Samuel 2: 18-20 and 26

Verse 19: “Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.”

We are in the midst of Advent – the season in which we remember and celebrate the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a season of waiting and expectation. In each consecutive week we focus in on peace, hope, joy, and love. It is appropriate that Christmas comes during the week of love. On this sacred day we rejoice that love came to us.

In the Old Testament story of Samuel, Hannah experiences love being poured out in her life. For many years, though, she waited with pain and sorrow. She was barren for many years. Yearly she went up to the temple and one year she poured out her heart and her tears to God. Eli the priest blessed her and God heard her prayer. Nine months of waiting and expectation ended in the celebration and joy of birth – a baby boy! Keeping her promise to God, as soon as Samuel was weaned she took him and dedicated him to serve in God’s temple. Remembering what it was like to drop our children off at college, I cannot imagine what Hannah’s first walk home was like.

Year after year Elkanah and Hannah continue to go up to the temple to offer the annual sacrifice. In today’s passage we read, “Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.” Although it must have been painful to see each other for such a short time, there was greater joy in the encounter. Not just in the moments actually together but also in each second that Hannah spent making the robe and each time that Samuel put it on as he served daily in the temple. The robe was a sign of their love, of their connection.

I wear a cross each day. It is hand carved and was given to me by a dear friend. Each morning when I put it on I am reminded of my friend. The cross also reminds me of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It too is a tangible sign of love and connection. In four days our waiting and expectation will peak as we gather for Christmas Eve worship. We will celebrate the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. We will rejoice that God took on flesh to walk among us. The life and ministry of Jesus will provide us with the model for living in love and connection with God and with one another. This is part of the Christmas story.

There is also a tinge of sadness to Christmas Eve. Even though it is a day or night of praise centered on peace, hope, joy, and love, it is also the beginning of a life’s journey that ends on a cross. As with Hannah each time left Samuel to return home, there is a sadness to the cross, to the pain and sorrow found there. And yet there is great joy too. Returning home I bet Hannah began to plan and then to work on next year’s robe. In this way she began anew the love and connection with Samuel. Each day as I place that cross around my neck, I am reminded of the love and connection I have with Jesus Christ and of the sacrifice that will be made for you and for me. There is joy in this gift too. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your story is one of pain and sorrow, of joy and life. As I draw closer to the night on which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, keep me connected to all parts of his story and to your love for me. Amen.


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Open Wide

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse 2: “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”.

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

As our passage begins, Paul begs those in the church in Corinth not to receive God’s gift of grace in vain. To know what grace is or to understand what grace offers is very different from living into God’s grace. It is not some distant thing or something you pull out of the drawer when you really need it. As Paul explains, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”. We are to receive and live in God’s grace 24/7. Now is the time. Today is the day.

Paul strove to model this for his fellow believers. He sought to glorify God as he shared the good news of Jesus Christ. As a humble servant of the Lord, Paul ever tried to “commend” himself and his fellow ministers in all they did. Paul and company exhibited endurance, hard work, purity, understanding, patience, kindness, sincere love, truthful speech, and righteousness. Along the way they experienced troubles, hardships, distress, beatings, riots, imprisonment, and hunger. What strengthened and enabled them to serve so faithfully in spite of all these challenges? Grace. The grace of God empowered them and kept them on track. The grace of God also carried them through when things went off the tracks.

Paul encourages the church in Corinth to claim this same grace, to live into it fully. In verse thirteen he urges them to “open wide your hearts also” – follow our example. An open heart is filled by God’s grace. Is your heart wide open?

Prayer: Lord God, use me today as a humble servant for Jesus Christ. If I must endure, strengthen me. If it requires much, fill me with your Spirit. If it is quiet and faithful humble service, guide and lead me well. Amen.


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Bear Much Fruit

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse 4: “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine”.

Photo credit: Summertrain

Today we continue in John 15 with the vine and branches metaphor. Yesterday we looked at the primary role that our relationship with Jesus Christ plays in our life of faith. Jesus is the vine that gives us true life. God “prunes” or shapes and refines us to better model Jesus’ love to the world and to one another. As we practice Jesus’ sacrificial love in the world we are part of making new disciples – “bearing fruit” in this metaphor.

Today we look at our fellow branches and our connection to them. The branches of a vine are also connected to one another. There is often an interdependent relationship amongst the branches – they work together to produce a harvest. This idea reminds me of my community of faith. At the church we have a large community garden. The produce goes to people in need. Yesterday about a dozen folks gathered to plant potatoes, beans, carrots, beets, okra, turnips, strawberries, and many vining plants. Another group of about six gathered and provided a morning coffee break and a yummy lunch. Later in the day another came to help the leaders set up and test the watering system. All together we laid the groundwork for a ministry that will help feed many, sharing the love of Jesus along the way. In this way we are planting seeds that we hope and pray that the Holy Spirit nurtures into faith.

There are many other ways that our community of faith and other communities of faith work together to produce a harvest for the kingdom of God. For each of us, our call is to find where we each “fit” within our own communities of faith. Once we find our places to be a part of the vine we begin to fulfill God’s purposes for our lives. In these places we “bear much fruit, showing ourselves to be Jesus’ disciples”. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the beautiful communities of faith that have helped me to grow and that have nurtured my faith. Thank you for the place where you have now planted me and for the ways they nurture me and help me to grow. Continue to be at work in us; use us to build up the kingdom of God in this time and place. Amen.