pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Reflecting God?

Reading: Psalm 79:1-9

Verse 8: “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.”

Photo credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel

Psalm 79 begins with the plight of Israel. The temple has been defiled and the walls of Jerusalem torn down. Dead bodies decay in the streets. Israel is the object of scorn and ridicule – from the pagan nations around them. It is from this reality that the psalmist asks God, “How long?!” He wants to know how long Israel will suffer for the sins of the people.

In response to all that has befallen them, in verse 6, the psalmist invites God to pour out wrath upon these pagan nations – the ones that God has used to punish Israel for their unrepentant sins. From this perspective that would make no sense. That’d be like badmouthing and tearing down those across the aisle that you’re supposed to be serving with. It’d be like posting an inspiring Bible verse on Facebook and then a second later ripping into someone because they don’t see an issue the exact same way you do. Like the psalmist, we can turn in an instant, not connecting one dot to the next because it doesn’t suit our agenda or our purposes.

In verse 8 the psalmist pleads with God, saying, “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.” Can these words come on the heels of wishing destruction upon others? Can we beg mercy for ourselves and something else, something bad, for one not like us? When we do so we are not reflecting the image of God in us. God loves all of creation passionately and completely. To pray for devastation on another or to heap destruction upon others is to pour it out upon God. May it not be so.

Prayer: Lord God, tame our tongues and rein in our overly impassioned emotions. Fill out spirit with your love and grace. Let these be the things that flow from our mouths and keyboard strokes. May we first see in all people the image of you. Amen.


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Like Clay in the Hand

Reading: Jeremiah 18:5-11

Verse 6: “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.”

As we rejoin Jeremiah at the potter’s house God speaks to him. God begins with a question: “Can I not do to you as the potter does?” Speaking to or about the nation of Israel, God lays claim to shaping and forming as God pleases. Continuing on in the passage we see that how the nation is shaped and forms depends on the nation’s choices. Do they choose to live for good or for evil? God’s heart is set on giving good things to the children of God. But if the people refuse to repent of their evil ways, then God will “reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.” Jeremiah has been sent by God to try and influence the peoples’ choices. God is using him to help them see their need for repentance and to realize that they need to turn back to God. This is what Jeremiah calls for in verse 11: turn and reform your actions, each of you!

Here we see how the collective is also personal. Every person matters. The same is true today. Each of us – you and me – are part of the faith community. Yes, as a whole we are called to do good and to follow God’s ways. Collectively we see this in the missions and other outreaches of the church. These works of mercy do not happen, though, without individuals with compassion for these areas of need. Just a few people, for example, with a heart for a local school can shape the church’s heart towards that school. Each of us – you and me – must have hearts of love, bent outwards toward the world.

God desires to place hands upon our hearts. God says to you and to me, “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.” God has a vision and a plan for our lives, a purpose for our faith. Like Israel, we have a choice. May we trust the Lord and allow God to shape and form our hearts and lives as God desires.

Prayer: Lord God, mold me and make me, just as you will. Shape me and form me, to do your will. Lead me and guide me, step by step. May your desires become more and more the desires of my heart. Amen.


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Are You Willing?

Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-8

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

In verse 5 we hear Jeremiah’s call story. God is addressing him, readying him to begin his ministry. The Lord says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” This amazing statement is true for all of us. Before God’s hands brought our cells together, before God began to weave us together, God knew us. God knew our essence, our soul, our spirit. God knew who and what we were going to be created for before our first cells were formed. What an amazing and powerful thought.

Yet it gets better: “Before you were born I set you a part.” Woven together by God with a purpose for our lives, we were also set apart by God to live as a child of God. Created by God as a child of God we are to reflect our creator to the world. For each of us, God has a plan for how we are to do that. For Jeremiah, God created him to be a prophet. That might be what God created you to be too. Or maybe God created you to be a banker or a custodian, a mechanic or a lawyer, a business owner or a mom, a pastor or a carpenter, a chef or a firefighter… Whatever our vocation, we remain called by God to live a life set apart.

In verse 6 we hear Jeremiah’s ‘buts.’ we have them too. But God… Yet God says, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. I am with you.” God says the same thing to our ‘buts.’ Before I formed you… I knew you. Before you breathed your first breath, I set you apart. If we are willing, these are God’s truths and God’s promises. Are you willing?

Prayer: Lord God, it is amazing to consider that you have a vision for me and for each of us. You put me together in a unique and special way – to accomplish what you set me apart for. Wow. And you promise to go with me, step by step, word by word, deed by deed. Wowza! Thank you, God. Amen.


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Ever Trust

Reading: Psalm 31:9-16

Verses 14-16: “But I trust in you, O Lord… My times are in your hands… save me in your unfailing love.”

In Psalm 31 David comes to God in a time of great distress, sorrow, and grief. It is a place most of us have been, so we can relate to David’s emotions. Some of us are there now, so we can feel David’s emotions. At times life causes our strength to fail and our bodies to grow weak. Our emotions exert a toll on our bodies. And maybe, like David, you too experienced or are experiencing a loss of friends during your time of suffering.

We walk through experiences of distress, sorrow, grief, loss, change over and over as we live our lives. Doing so we grow and we are equipped by God to walk with others as they experience these things. Just as we all remember this person or that person who was there for us, offering compassion or presence or support during our trial or suffering, we too can be that person for others.

Our passage today concludes with these words from verses 14-16: “But I trust in you, O Lord… My times are in your hands… save me in your unfailing love.” David first trusts in God. God is good and kind and loving. Trust in God. He then acknowledges that his time is in God’s hands. No one else is in control. No one. Acknowledging this truth releases it all to God. After asking God’s face to shine upon his (to be present to him), David asks for God to act in his unfailing love. This circles back around to trusting God and to acknowledging that God alone is in control. As we experience difficult times and as we choose to walk with others in difficult times, may we ever trust in our sovereign, all-powerful, loving God.

Prayer: Lord God, in your great love you guide us and you walk with us. All you have for us is for and by your purposes and plans. Help me to ever trust in your love, today and every day. Amen.


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Always a Plan, Always a Purpose

Reading: Luke 5:1-11

Verse 4: “Put out into deeper water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

As we turn to Luke 5 we hear Peter’s call story and we consider the call of Christ on our lives. Peter’s call plays out much like Isaiah’s in some ways. Both men initially think themselves unworthy of being in the presence of the divine. And both ultimately accept a call that is open ended to say the least.

In today’s passage, as Jesus arrives lakeside, people gather and begin to crowd in around Jesus. To better accommodate the people’s desire to hear him, Jesus steps into a boat and asks the owner to push out from shore. Peter obliges and continues to ready for the next day of fishing. Wrapping up the teaching session, Jesus says to Peter, “Put out into deeper water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Peter protests a bit but does so. Seems safe enough. Caught absolutely nothing last night. But notice the words Jesus speaks – he knows there will be a catch. Jesus did not say, ‘Put out and let’s see what happens.’

In our lives, often when we think we are simply going through our day to day, Jesus will invite us to put out into deeper waters. The Holy Spirit will help us notice someone or will nudge us towards a situation. I don’t believe there are ever “let’s see what happens” moments when God is leading and guiding. God always has a plan or a purpose when we are called. Even when we go along reluctantly or halfheartedly, as did Peter, God’s power will be manifest.

The catch was so large that the nets began to break… so large that they had to call for help… so large that both boats began to sink beneath the load of fish… so large that Peter kneels humble before Jesus, realizing that he is in the presence of the holy. God desires to work in our lives in the same way. God steps into our boats and asks something of us. Are we willing to respond faithfully, trusting in the plans and purposes of God?

Prayer: Lord God, when I am reluctant, please nudge a little harder. When I am tired, please call a little louder. When I think my boat is full, please amaze me once again. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Growing in Our Love

Reading: 1st Corinthians 13:1-7

Verse 7: “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Today and tomorrow we will walk through 1st Corinthians 13. This passage is often used at weddings as it speaks of love in beautiful, flowing language. A wedding, however, was not Paul’s context for writing these words. This passage continues the topics of the past two week’s readings in chapter 12. Here Paul spoke of unity in the church and of using the gifts of the Holy Spirit to build the body of Christ and the kingdom of God. Paul ends chapter 12 with these words: “And now I will show you the most excellent way.” The way is the way of love.

In verses 1-3 Paul speaks of Christian values, practices, gifts done without love three times. Each time he states that any of these wonderful things done without love results in being or gaining nothing. Without love these things are like that lame, heartless apology we were forced to give as kids because mom or dad was making us say that we were sorry. Each time we heard something along the lines, “Say it like you mean it.” If we can speak in tongues or utter amazing prophecies but have not love, we gain nothing. If we know all about the Bible or if we have faith enough to move a mountain, but have not love, we gain nothing. Faith without love is simply going through the motions, like saying “sorry” when we didn’t really mean it. Love is what gives our faith and the practice of our faith roots, purpose, power.

In verses 4-7 Paul describes what ideal, God-like, covenant love is and is not. Even though there is a playfulness to Paul’s words here, there is also great meaning and power. Love should not be envious or boastful, proud or rude, petty or self-seeking. Note that all of these focus on self, on “me.” Instead, Paul calls us to the most excellent way. Love should be patient and kind, rejoicing in truth. Love should be “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Paul is calling us to love others as God loves us, as Jesus loved us. While our imperfect nature finds us falling short of this picture of covenant love, God’s covenant love always remains, always calls us back towards loving as God loves us. Day by day may we hear the call and respond, growing daily in our love for God and for one another.

Prayer: God, thank you for this beautiful and awesome reminder of your love and for your plan for how we are to love one another. Each day help my love to be more like your love. Amen.


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Purpose

Reading: Proverbs 31: 10-31

Verses 15, 17, and 18: “She gets up while it is still dark… she sets about her work vigorously… her lamp does not go out at night.”

Photo credit: Lina Trochez

As we return to Proverbs 31 today, we look at these words as a pattern for the whole church, not just for one seeking to be the perfect woman of faith. The exemplary example set in this passage would be impossible for one person. Just look again at the quoted verses above. How could anyone work vigorously both day and night? It is impossible. But if we consider instead that these words are a collective pattern for the whole church, then it becomes possible for the body of Christ as a whole to do all things at all times.

All active, successful, and effective churches are build around the idea of each person having gifts and talents that are being used for the glory of God. In each healthy congregation there are ones who “work with eager hands.” This includes meals, projects, mission work, VBS, and much more. In all active churches there are some folks who get up early and some who work into the night. Some are reading and praying, some are leading a class or small group, some are arriving early so that all is ready, and some are staying late so that all is put away and tidy. In thriving communities of faith there are many different people filling many different roles. Such places of faith are thriving because collectively we accomplish more than we ever could individually.

Communities of faith, like all volunteer-based organizations, must help folks understand what their gifts are and to see how they can be used for the glory of God and for the making of disciples. Each individual must discover their purpose in the community of believers. Maybe you are active in the life of your church. If so, where have you found your fit? Please share this with us – you might inspire someone! If you haven’t found your purpose and place, what gifts or talents has God blessed you with? And, how can you take one step today to begin living into who and what God created you to be in the body of Christ?

Prayer: Lord God, together the body of Christ has so much to say offer to a world in need. Each of us have been blessed in so many ways. Open all of our eyes to see how we each elevate the whole. Turn our hearts towards generous service to you and to others. Use us as you designed us. Amen.


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The Family of God

Reading: Romans 8: 12-17

Verse 14: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

Chapter 8 in Romans is all about the new life we find in Christ. Paul begins the chapter by speaking of the freedom from sin found in and through Christ. He talks of the Holy Spirit’s power that leads us to live not in sin but in righteousness. As our verses begin today, Paul writes of our “obligation” to live according to the way of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the word ‘obligation’ rubs us the wrong way. It can imply something we have to do not something we want to do. Paul is connecting back to what he shared in verse three – that God sent Jesus as a “sin offering” for those who were powerless against sin – for us! To live for the desires and pleasures of the flesh would fly in the face of Jesus’ offering for us. So Paul urges us, obliges us, to live by the Spirit of God.

In verse fourteen Paul writes, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”. When we live by or allow the Holy Spirit within to guide us, then we are living as a child of God. This is a great place to be. Yet many people choose to live as a child of the world. The lures of money and power and status, as well as the pleasures of the flesh, are powerful draws to our human, worldly selves. It can feel “good” to accumulate and enjoy these things. Yet when we live unto ourselves we focus only inward, lessening even our most important relationships. Our sense of belonging and our sense of worth become connected to how we “feel”, which is connected to superficial, shallow, temporary things. It is a fragile place to live.

When we choose to live by the Spirit, by the way of Christ, we find a different source of joy, contentment, peace. Our relationships are not guided by self but by the love of Jesus Christ welling up inside of us. Self fades away as love of God and neighbor becomes our purpose, our source of meaning and worth. Living as a child of God, as a part of the body of Christ, we find eternal belonging. Knowing we are loved forever by our Lord, we can go forth into the world to live out that love, drawing others toward their place in the family of God. May it be so for you and for me today.

Prayer: Lord God, your family is beautiful, generous, loving. Thank you for making space for me in your family. When I am not these things, lift up the voice of the Holy Spirit within me, drawing me back into the depth of your love. 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.


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Seeking

Reading: Acts 8: 32-40

Verse 35: “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”.

As we continue today in Acts 8 we see how the opportunity that God provided for Philip impacted the Ethiopian eunuch. Led by the Holy Spirit, Philip was invited to sit with the eunuch in order to explain these verses from Isaiah 53. The prophet writes of a man who was killed – “led like a sheep to the slaughter”. The eunuch asks, “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else”? There is a desire burning inside the eunuch to know more.

In verse 35 we read, “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”. Beginning with this messianic prophecy, Philip tells the good news of Jesus Christ to the eunuch. We do not know what all Philip taught the man. Did he include other Old Testament prophecies? Did he include the birth stories? Did Philip just begin at the point that he himself encountered Jesus? What story did he use to plant the seeds of a desire to be baptized? Whatever Philip taught the eunuch must have been filled with compassion and personal belief. Led still by the Holy Spirit, Philip connected the eunuch to Jesus Christ and the new life offered through a relationship with Jesus.

We too will encounter people that are seeking. Some will be like the eunuch, seeking Jesus. Seeds already planted will be ready to blossom into faith. Here we guide them in their final steps into a relationship with Jesus. Some will be seeking meaning and purpose in their lives. With these we will need to model and eventually teach how and why Jesus is the only thing that fills that hole in their soul. Some seekers will be hurting or broken or lost, knowing that they have a need but are unable to identify or name it. They just know they want out of that valley. Working through the pain or grief will proceed any obvious steps of faith. Pouring God’s love and compassion and comfort into their lives will help bring healing and wholeness. These are but a few of the people we will encounter if we are listening to the Holy Spirit, if we are seeking to be used by God.

Like Philip did with the eunuch, may we meet the person right before us where they are, ministering to them as we are led by the Holy Spirit. Doing so, we too will share the good news of Jesus Christ, drawing others closer to our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart to see the ones you place before me today. Fill me with your Holy Spirit, guide my words and actions. Use me to build your kingdom today. Amen.