pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Step Outside, See

Reading: Jeremiah 29:1 and 4-7

Verses 4 and 5: “Build houses and settle down… Marry and have sons and daughters.”

Photo credit: Josh Calabrese

In this week’s Old Testament reading, Jeremiah brings news to the people. When I think of the news today, we tend to curate the news we hear or see. We do it by the channel we choose to watch (or not), by the feeds we pay attention to on social media (or don’t), and by the places and people that we choose to interact with (or not). When we are selective in these ways, we tend to get a shewed or biased news. This was the choice that those living in exile wanted to make. Some yet in Jerusalem were saying that the exile would be short-lived, that God will restore them soon. This was the news they wanted to tell and that the exiles wanted to hear.

But the great truth-teller, God, had much different news. It was not the news the people wanted to hear. Through Jeremiah, God says, “Build houses and settle down… Marry and have sons and daughters.” Settle in. Get used to this place. This is going to be a while. The exiles just want to go home. Not so fast, God says. Like their forefathers in the wilderness, there are lessons to learn, reshaping to be done. I too am this same way. When I find myself in a place of discomfort or refining, I just want it to end. I want to go back to “normal” as soon as possible.

Even though this news of an extended stay had to be startling, the implications of God’s instructions and what God says next is even more shocking. God is instructing them to become a part of their new home and in a good way. It was a radical shift from the old draw the circle tight, don’t interact with the Gentiles mentality. And God says to pray here and to pray for their new home – but not just for yourselves. Pray for Babylon and its people. Not for God’s wrath to fall but for God to prosper the nation and the people. This is an invitation to step outside their small circle and to see God as the God of all people. How might God be challenging you and me to do this same thing?

Prayer: Lord God, reveal to me the uncomfortable but needed steps that I need to take. Help me to go where or to whom you’d have me go. Give me eyes to see as you see and a heart to love as you love. Amen.


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Courageous Enough

Reading: Luke 4:14-15

Verse 14: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.”

Photo credit: Jonathan Borba

Fresh off his experience in the wilderness, Jesus begins his public ministry. This wilderness time was a difficult period of fasting and temptation. In Luke 4:2 we read, “for forty days he was tempted by Satan.” What an ordeal to go through. In the end, though, Jesus’ trust in God carried him through. If you or I were to go through such a thing, I bet we too would come out of it “in the power of the Spirit.” Out of each experience where we know God was present and carried us through, we come out “on fire”, wanting to share the good news with others.

As Jesus returns to Galilee with Spirit power resting upon him, he begins to minister to others. We do not know exactly what this early ministry entailed. Was it just teaching? Were there miracles and healings too? Whatever it was, we do know that the word got out about Jesus: “news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.” Whenever Jesus taught in the synagogues, his teaching drew lots of praise. Part of me wonders how much of his preaching was influenced by or even contained examples from his time in the wilderness. It would be a natural way to connect to his audience. After all, we each face trials and temptations.

We too can use our “wilderness” experiences in this same way. While we may emerge from these times “on fire”, we don’t always try to light a flame to others’ faith through our story. Sometimes we don’t see the opportunity. Sometimes we are afraid to be vulnerable – to admit our humanity and weaknesses. Sometimes we think less of our witness than we should. And sometimes we are afraid to surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit. Where will the Spirit lead? Will the Spirit just use and use and use me?

Jesus came out of the wilderness filled with the Spirit. He allowed that power to work in and through him to minister to others. His ministry impacted and changed lives. May we become courageous enough to walk in these footsteps of Jesus. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, I know I have stories of faith to share with others. We all do. Encourage me to be bold enough for my faith. Empower me to follow Jesus’ example, using my walk with you to help others along on their journeys of faith. Amen.


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Courageous Enough

Reading: Luke 4:14-15

Verse 14: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.”

Photo credit: Jonathan Borba

Fresh off his experience in the wilderness, Jesus begins his public ministry. This wilderness time was a difficult period of fasting and temptation. In Luke 4:2 we read, “for forty days he was tempted by Satan.” What an ordeal to go through. In the end, though, Jesus’ trust in God carried him through. If you or I were to go through such a thing, I bet we too would come out of it “in the power of the Spirit.” Out of each experience where we know God was present and carried us through, we come out “on fire”, wanting to share the good news with others.

As Jesus returns to Galilee with Spirit power resting upon him, he begins to minister to others. We do not know exactly what this early ministry entailed. Was it just teaching? Were there miracles and healings too? Whatever it was, we do know that the word got out about Jesus: “news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.” Whenever Jesus taught in the synagogues, his teaching drew lots of praise. Part of me wonders how much of his preaching was influenced by or even contained examples from his time in the wilderness. It would be a natural way to connect to his audience. After all, we each face trials and temptations.

We too can use our “wilderness” experiences in this same way. While we may emerge from these times “on fire”, we don’t always try to light a flame to others’ faith through our story. Sometimes we don’t see the opportunity. Sometimes we are afraid to be vulnerable – to admit our humanity and weaknesses. Sometimes we think less of our witness than we should. And sometimes we are afraid to surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit. Where will the Spirit lead? Will the Spirit just use and use and use me?

Jesus came out of the wilderness filled with the Spirit. He allowed that power to work in and through him to minister to others. His ministry impacted and changed lives. May we become courageous enough to walk in these footsteps of Jesus. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, I know I have stories of faith to share with others. We all do. Encourage me to be bold enough for my faith. Empower me to follow Jesus’ example, using my walk with you to help others along on their journeys of faith. Amen.


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Our Task

Reading: Acts 1: 1-11

Verse 8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth”.

As Luke continues the story of Jesus in his second book he summarizes the life and ministry of Jesus, including the forty days between his resurrection and the day Jesus ascended into heaven. We celebrate Jesus’ ascension in today’s passage. In verses four and five Luke recounts one of those forty days – the day Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit.

As Jesus gathers this one last time with his disciples, they still don’t quite get the bigger picture. They ask if this is the time that Jesus will “restore the kingdom of Israel”. After a dismissive response – it’s not for you to know – Jesus gets to what is now important. In verse eight he tells the disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth”. Starting in Jerusalem and then moving to Judea, they will move on to Samaria and eventually to the whole world. The disciples will go forth to witness to the good news of Jesus Christ. In an ever-widening circle the good news will radiate out from Jerusalem. Jesus then ascends into heaven, disappearing into the clouds. Two angels tell the disciples that Jesus will one day “come back in the same way”. We await that day.

As the disciples waited, they did not wait idly. They got to work organizing the church. Ten days later the Holy Spirit descends on Pentecost. Filled with the Holy Spirit the disciples and then the apostles and eventually the followers begin to preach the good news, working towards the ends of the earth.

Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with all the world remains a work in progress. Almost 2,000 years later this remains one of the central tasks of the church – to make new disciples for the transformation of the world. It is the task of all who wait upon the Lord. It is my task. It is your task. It is our task. May we each faithfully witness to the power and love of Jesus Christ today and every day, doing our part to bring the good news to all people!

Prayer: Lord God, with all that I meet and interact with, may I be a witness to the life that Jesus Christ offers. May I bring Christ with me into all of my conversations, words, and actions. In all may you be glorified. Amen.


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News Spread Quickly

Reading: Mark 1: 21-28

Verse 28: “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee”.

Our gospel reading for today and tomorrow centers on Jesus’ authority. After arriving in Capernaum, Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath. As Jesus begins teaching, the people are “amazed” because he was “one who had authority”. Jesus spoke and taught in a way that clearly set him apart from the local scribes and teachers of the law that usually taught in the local synagogue. Jesus had a knowledge that was inherent, not learned or taught. Jesus, therefore, possessed a God-given, divine authority.

During his time in the synagogue a man possessed by an evil spirit cries out, recognizing Jesus as “the Holy One of God”. The spirit acknowledges the divine power in Jesus – “are you going to destroy us”? In response Jesus quiets the man and tells the evil spirit to come out of him. With a shriek the man is freed from his demon and is made well. This action adds a layer of amazement for those in the synagogue that day. As one might expect, “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee”.

Although not possessed, we each have moments when an evil spirit rises up within us, tempting us to sin. In those moments we also bump up against the Holy One – the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In that moment, competing voices speak into our decision. Good and evil vie for control, for the outcome of that moment. The deceiver whispers lies, the Spirit speaks truth. In that moment, do we give Jesus authority in our lives? In the decision, do we allow the Holy One to have power over self?

These moments happen over and over on our journey of faith, many times every day. Each outcome determines how others see us and how they see our faith. As we walk out our days may we do so in a manner that causes “news about him” to spread quickly.

Prayer: Lord God, in each word and in each action, guide me to be attuned to the living presence of Jesus Christ within me. Tune my heart to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Bend my will to your will. Amen.


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Merciful God

Reading: Romans 11: 1-2a and 29-32

Verse 1: “I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means”!

At times the news can be so hard to listen to. In this pandemic time we have all had moments or days or even weeks when the news of rising death tolls and of new spreading of COVID has left us empty, downcast, anxious. We, like many, have sometimes questioned where God is in the midst of all this. Has God finally rejected humanity? Paul asks this type of question.

Paul has just finished lamenting Israel’s unbelief. While some Jews have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, the vast majority have not. What had been a very tight circle that included just one nation has been opened wide as Christianity has spread to the edges of the known world. The Gentiles and potentially the whole world has been grafted into God’s family. It feels as if almost all of Israel is now on the outside looking in instead of being the only ones inside. Paul turns to this question: “Did God reject his people”? In essence, has God moved on?

God has fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Jesus Christ was born, lived among the Jews, taught of God’s love. He was crucified and buried. Jesus was resurrected. Right before their eyes the Messiah, the incarnate God, came, lived, and returned to the Father. Paul hypothetically wonders if the Jews have missed out. His response to the question is very decisive: “By no means”! God remains the God of Israel. And God is the God of a much larger family too.

Paul goes on that the rejection of Jesus is just one more season of disobedience. As God has always done, God will continue to be faithful, seeking ways to be merciful anyway. This too is our experience with God. On a regular basis we reject God, we are disobedient. Yet God still loves us. God still seeks to be merciful, to draw us back into relationship. God ever desires to wash us clean with his mercy. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Supremely loving and merciful God, thank you for your love and mercy. How do I say more? Thank you, thank you, thank you. Amen.


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Best News Ever

Reading: Romans 10: 5-15

Verse 12: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him”.

Christianity can be exclusive. Since day one it is something we have struggled with. In the very earliest church they thought one had to first be Jewish before one could become a Christian. Soon enough the Gentile Christians were trying to exclude the Jewish Christians. That is partially what Paul is addressing today. To the church in Rome and to all Christians today, Paul says, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him”. All people are loved by God. In similar writings Paul adds slave and free, young and old… to illustrate that God is for all people.

Religion in general has a long history of using beliefs and sacred texts as a means to justify exclusivity and sometimes violence. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and a host of other religions have fought wars, conducted purges, persecuted, imprisoned, … others outside of their faith. This is a fine line we walk. To have a belief system inherently makes one feel that their belief system is “right” or “correct”. If you didn’t, would your faith be worth having and following? But to use those beliefs to do harm of any kind crosses a line that Jesus clearly drew. A quick look at Jesus’ ministry, teachings, and life reveal a God who loves all people.

Tension existed between Jesus and the dominant religion because of his inclusiveness. Jesus interacted with all kinds of people deemed unclean, unholy, and unwelcome. His inclusion of prostitutes and Samaritans, of tax collectors and adulterers, of lepers and other infirm revealed the depth and breadth of God’s love.

Paul ends today’s passage with an encouragement to be like Jesus – preaching and teaching. It is also a claim to exclusivity: to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the whole world. We are called to go and tell of God’s love found in Jesus Christ. It is the best news ever. May we go and tell one and all.

Prayer: Lord of all creation and of all people, may I be a bearer of the good news. May I always tell of a love that conquers all things, defeats all barriers, and welcomes all people. Amen.


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Both New and Old

Reading: Acts 2: 1-21

Verse 4: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them”.

As we continue to look at Acts 2 we focus in today on communication. A small group of Jesus followers is gathered together and the Holy Spirit bursts in and settles on each one. At that moment, “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them”. The languages that they spoke matched up with the native tongues of the Jews that were drawn there and this helped them to connect to the story of Jesus Christ. As I shared yesterday, we each have our own unique “language” or experience that can speak into another person’s life, drawing them to our source of new life.

In this pandemic time we have had to learn and relearn how to communicate when we cannot be face to face. Many people became familiar with apps like Zoom and FaceTime and Google chat. Some of us even became somewhat proficient at using these platforms to gather for Bible studies and meetings and family birthdays… In many churches the leap was made to provide online worship as YouTube and Facebook Live and other platforms were quickly learned and used. Folks at home also had to adjust to how they heard and participated in online worship – honing their new communication skills.

We have also relearned some skills that we practiced back in the days without social media and cell phones. We call and talk on the phone, catching up and checking in on one another. We send actual notes and cards in the mail. Some have even had conversations with folks from afar – talking through windows and screen doors. It has been good to be reminded that the “old-fashioned” ways to communicate are every bit as good as texting, messaging, … It has been good for me, for us, to be reminded of the value of simply checking in, of reaching out, of connecting in more personal ways.

As we begin to work our way back to whatever our new normal is, may we continue to learn and use the technology when beneficial and necessary. But let us also hold fast to all of these “old” modes of communication as well because they are often more personal, more real, more valued to many. May all these things be so as we seek to share our faith each day.

Prayer: Lord God, sharing your love and hope and grace can happen in many forms. In this season you have reminded me of the value of personal communication in new and old ways. Thank you. Help me to discern how to best communicate these means of faith to others today and every day. Amen.


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Trust…

Reading: John 14: 1-7

Verse 1: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me”.

The encouragement to not be troubled (or worried or afraid) is one made often in the Bible. There are many things that can trigger fear to arise in us. In today’s passage the disciples fear what lies ahead. In John’s gospel Jesus has just predicted his death, paused to wash the feet of the disciples, and then predicted the betrayal by Judas and the denial by Peter. All of this must have been so much to take on in such a short time. It is no wonder Jesus says to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled”.

On our journey of life we too receive such bombshell news. It can range from a threatening medical diagnosis to the unexpected loss of employment. It can range from the ending of a significant relationship to the unwanted relocation to a new state or country. These and many more life events can suddenly skyrocket our levels of fear and stress and anxiety. In each of these cases we too need to hear Jesus’ voice as he whispers, “Do not let your hearts be troubled”. Perhaps you need to hear these words today. If so, Jesus wants to speak them to you.

Jesus continues on, telling the disciples and you and me to “trust in God; trust also in me”. The ability to trust comes from the words that Jesus speaks next in verses two through four. Yes, he is physically leaving the disciples. Yes, that is bombshell news. But. But. But he is leaving “to prepare a place for you”. We can each place our name in the phrase: “to prepare a place for John“, “to prepare a place for Sue”, “to prepare a place for ___”. He is doing so with a promise: “I will come back and take you to be with me”. We are not will not ever be left alone. This cuts through our fear. The assurance that Jesus gives calms the disciples’ hearts. It allows them to dial back the fear and doubt and worry. Only then can they hear the rest of Jesus’ words.

As our passage closes, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. No matter what life brings, these words bring hope, they build trust, they fight fear. Each day may we cling to them as we seek to walk in faith with our Jesus. As we do so, know that Jesus walks with us every step of the way. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Living hope, be present to each facing fear today. Assure each first of your presence. Then fill these with your love and peace. Surround us all with your light. In your light there is no darkness. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.


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Walk and Listen

Reading: Luke 24: 13-27

Verse 21: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel”.

As Cleopas and his traveling companion walked along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus they were discussing the recent events in the city. These two were followers of Jesus. As he joins them, they are surprised that their new traveling partner does not appear to know much about what has happened to their Jesus. I live in a community of about 3,000. As I read the weekly newspaper I realize that there are lots of things that go on in town that I had no clue about. On a smaller scale, there are things that go on in my church that I sometimes find out about after the fact. There are some things that I am sure I will never know about. Now, neither of these are on the scale of a crucifixion – to Jesus’ family and followers. But there were certainly people living in and visiting Jerusalem just knew that three more men were punished by the Romans.

The two men walking to Emmaus seem to know a lot about these recent events and seem pretty connected to the other followers of Jesus. The phrases “some of our women” and “our companions” indicate a closeness to the early group of disciples and followers. They also knew the physical details of what all has happened to Jesus. They know the facts. But, as seems to be the case with almost all of Jesus’ followers at this point, they have forgotten both what Jesus himself said would happen over and over as well as what the prophecies say in the scriptures concerning the Messiah. These two, like the rest, are doubting what the women have told them. Because the companions that went to the tomb did not see him, they all question if Jesus really could be alive. Surely, surely, surely if Jesus were alive he would have come and comforted them in their grief and explained all that was going on to erase their confusion. Surely.

Jesus begins this process with Cleopas and friend. Walking along the road to Emmaus he explains all that the scriptures say that has now been fulfilled in Jerusalem. These two men who were hoping that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel come face to face with their redeemer. In grace, Jesus meets them where they are at and ministers to them, providing what they need. He offers the same to you and to me and to all people who seek to walk with him. May we choose to walk with Jesus today, listening to all he has to tell us this day.

Prayer: Father of all, walk with me, whisper into my heart. Fill me with your presence so that I may serve you this day. Amen.