pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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One Flock

Reading: John 10: 11-18

Verse 16: “There shall be one flock and one shepherd”.

Our passage begins by defining Jesus as the good shepherd, the one who loves the sheep, the one who will “lay down his life for the sheep”. John contrasts this dedication to that of the hired hand. For this person, watching the sheep is just a job. And hopefully a temporary one at that. In my youth, this would have been like working in the tobacco fields. It was always hot and muggy. The tar stuck to everything. The dirt and worse stuck to the tar. About a minute into each day’s work one began to long for the end of the day. A hint of rain and the workers were ready to call it a day. In our passage the hired hand runs at the first sign of trouble. Not so with the good shepherd.

I don’t know about you, but I sure like my good shepherd and the flock I’m a part of. Jesus is faithful and true, with me in the highs and lows and everywhere in between. He watches over me, comforts me, guides me, forgives me, loves me. And what a wonderful flock too! The church is welcoming and kind and generous and dedicated – just a wonderful group of followers of Jesus. The good shepherd knows me by name – just like everyone else who gathers together on a Sunday morning. We gather and greet one another, we sing and pray and worship God, the little lambs frolic and play. We leave on Sunday morning feeling ready to live out our faith.

Then the reality of verse sixteen hits me: “There shall be one flock and one shepherd”. Well, God, maybe you are talking about the day when Jesus returns in final glory, when people of “every nation, tribe, people, and language” will stand before the throne (Revelation 7:9). No, Jesus said the kingdom of God is now, it is here on earth. This verse and these thoughts leave me wondering: what more do I need to do to draw others into the flock, to make all people in my little part of the kingdom feel loved and cared for by the good shepherd and by me?

Prayer: Lord God, who in the neighborhood needs to feel your love? Who needs to hear your voice? Help me to open wide the doors and to offer a pasture that draws all people in. May your kingdom be revealed. Amen.


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Hour by Hour, Day by Day

Reading: Mark 13: 30-37

Verse 34: “He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task”.

As this chapter in Mark about the signs of the end of the age comes to a close, Jesus reminds his disciples and followers that no one knows when he will return. Even Jesus himself does not know when. Therefore he says, “Be on guard! Be alert”! As is often the case when we wait and wait and wait, our focus or attention can lag or fade. If I, for example, were to plan to run a marathon in October 2022, I probably would not start training today. If were planning to enter the next race as soon as I were able to run 26.2 miles, then I would start training today. That is Jesus’ point in this section of Mark 13.

In verse 34 Jesus says, “He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task”. About 2,000 years ago Jesus left this temporary house on earth to spend eternity with his father in heaven. Jesus left us each with a task or a role to play. These are the gifts of the Spirit that we read about yesterday in 1st Corinthians 1. Some are pastors, some are teachers. Some are encouragers, some are prayer warriors. Some are missionaries, some are singers. Some are greeters, some are readers. Some are audio-visual folks, some are cooks and bakers. There are many roles to play in the family of God, in the church. When the owner of this house returns, will he find us sleeping? Or will we be actively living out our faith, serving God and one another, ready to meet him at any moment?

Hour by hour, day by day, life by life, may we be ready to serve the Lord, his church, and his world.

Prayer: Lord of all, help me to always be ready to do your will. As you have gifted me, so may I serve. Put me to doing, put me to all things, put me to nothing. Use me as you will, O Lord. Amen.


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One Day

Reading: Matthew 25: 1-13

Verse 12: “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you'”.

The parable we read today is called “The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids”. The story is really about the bridegroom. We often see our faith this way too – sort of backwards. We think God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit – all here for us. Living in a consumeristic, instant gratification, me-first society, it is easy to fall into this mindset. In this approach, as bridesmaids we would ask why it takes so long for the bridegroom to arrive. We have waited SO LONG for the groom to arrive so that we can go into the celebration and festivities.

The folly of this inwardly focused faith is revealed in the foolish bridesmaids. First, instead of simply going and getting more oil – something they are evidently capable of – they ask for some from the wise ones. At times in our culture, it is easier to take from others instead of doing for ourselves. This creates a dangerous culture of dependence. Second, when our faith is focused on ourselves instead of on Jesus, the object of our faith, then we do not really get to know Jesus. We fail to hear his call to humble service. When our time comes to stand at the door, if our faith is selfish and shallow, we too will hear, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you”.

We will all one day stand before the Lord. As we do so, will Jesus see one who lived for God and for others? Will he see a life spent in seeking to live love out loud day by day? That is the hope. To that end may we love God and others above self, being ready for the day or hour when we see Jesus face to face.

Prayer: Living God, it is so easy to be selfish, to want for earthly things. The influences of the world nudge us in this direction. Send the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit to ever call me into the ways of love and service, in the ways of peace and hope. Amen.


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Learning to Walk

Reading: Matthew 22: 1-12

Verse 12: “Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes”?

This week’s gospel lesson is the second in a row from Jesus that focuses in on how he is rejected. They are stories of greed and arrogance and selfishness. These two parables are aimed at the religious leaders in their original context, but they certainly have application for us today.

As our passage opens, Jesus is clear that this parable compares the kingdom of God to a wedding banquet. Jesus begins by explaining that those originally invited refuse to come. A second invite is rejected as well. This time those invited mistreat and kill the servants. A voice had called out in the desert. Some came and heard the call to repentance. They were baptized as a symbol of readiness for the coming kingdom. But John’s call fell on many deaf ears as he ministered in the wilderness. Jesus himself came with a second invite, calling the Jews to really love as God commanded. Jesus’ message centered on the two great commandments: love God with all you heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The religious leaders refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah, so the call or invite extended past the Jews. Anyone that can be found will be invited to the wedding banquet.

The religious leaders went out and heard John’s call. They hung around and heard Jesus’ words, saw the miracles. Showing up is something about anyone can do. There are folks that show up on Sunday mornings. Simply sitting in a worship service does not make one into a practicing Christian. In our parable today, a man comes to the banquet, but he is not prepared. He chose to hear the call, but failed to ready himself. In Jesus’ day, to attend a wedding, one must dress in the required wedding clothes. These clothes were special and required effort and preparation. But this man just showed up. He was simply there to consume and indulge, not to really be a part of things, not to celebrate with the bride and groom. The Jews and the religious leaders in particular had received the invitations. They still showed up for the Sabbath, thinking they were honoring God simply be being there. They went about their lofty rituals and wore their fancy clothes. They loved these things, not God. They were arrogant and selfish, loving only self and not the many neighbors who needed both physical and spiritual care. They lived inside their self-constructed walls.

We too do this. We do it on Sundays when we show up and go through the motions instead of being open to and looking for God’s Spirit to change us on a Sunday morning. We do it each day when we rush off into our day without first connecting to God in word and prayer. We do it each time we think ourselves a Christian and then ignore the poverty, oppression, and injustices of our communities and our world. Simply put, it is easy to talk the talk. It is much harder to always walk the walk. May we all better learn to walk the walk as we seek to follow Jesus Christ, loving as he first loved each of us.

Prayer: God of all, help me to more fully love you and all people. Turn me from selfishness and self-righteousness, becoming more and more willing to give myself away, becoming more and more willing to risk for the gospel. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Push Us

Reading: Acts 10: 34-43

Verses 34-35: “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right”.

In our passage today, Peter reveals a heart that has witnessed the widening of God’s circle. Early on in his days following Jesus he was more focused on the chosen people, the Jews. Even though Peter was present when many Samaritans came to believe in Jesus after he spoke to the women at the well, his circle was still small. In Acts 10, Peter has a vision and a powerful moment that leads him to say, “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right”. In this experience God will even challenge Peter’s notion of what is right. (In the reminder of chapter ten the Holy Spirit comes upon the Gentiles before they are baptized – not the “normal” order!)

Peter’s mind and, more importantly, his heart were changed when he allowed himself to be open to God’s voice in the visions and when he followed where God led. Once in a position to do so, Peter shared the good news with his Gentile audience. As God opened up Peter’s circle he came to understand what Jesus really meant by “go and make disciples of all people”. This would not have been possible if Peter was not willing to consider that God might just be doing a new thing in and through him. If Peter stayed stuck in his old understanding of God’s love, he would never have encountered Cornelius and family.

This leads me to wonder: when have I tried to stay in my comfort zone, avoiding the new thing that God is trying to do? When have I been hesitant to see how God is moving and opening up the path to faith to someone I do not think is worthy or ready or acceptable? Sometimes what I have understood previously has been the thing that kept me within my own little circle. At other times my stereotypes and preconceived ideas have been my barrier.

God pushed Peter to new people and to a new understanding of just how big God’s love is. It happened because Peter allowed himself to be pushed. May we each allow God to push us today.

Prayer: Loving Father, your love knows no bounds, does it? You see one and all as worthy of your love. Who and what they are or have been does not matter to you. A heart turned towards you is simply the starting point for us all. Help me today to better be your love in the world. Make my love a love for one and all, Lord. Allow me to follow closer. Amen.


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Ever Ready

Reading: Matthew 24: 36-44

Verse 44: “You must be ready because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him”.

Advent is the season when we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. We read the familiar stories and build up the excitement for Christmas Eve. Along the way we are reminded of how the Christ brings peace, hope, joy, and love into our lives and into the world. It is a season of anticipation and excitement. Today’s passage is subtitled “The Day and Hour Unknown” in my Bible. Yet in our Advent world and on our little calendars the day is clearly marked – December 25!

Today’s passage flashes forward to the end of the story. We jump to the time when the risen Lord will return to rule the new heaven and earth. This day and hour are unknown. Jesus’ advice is to be ready. Noah is the example that Jesus points to. Noah is a good example for us yet today. The world tends to stay busy – weddings and celebrations, enjoying life. There is little time to give to faith. A little time each day and an hour or two a week? Seems a bit much, doesn’t it? Not for Noah. As the world went on around him he faithfully did God’s work. Even when the world ridiculed him for doing something that made no sense to them, Noah stayed the course.

It can be easy for us to get distracted. The holiday season feels especially busy. Guarding our time with God, growing in our faith, can be harder this time of year. Christmas is all about Jesus so it seems counterintuitive to say this but it is the reality. Yes, it is good to gather with family and friends, to celebrate the season. But our focus must remain on Jesus.

As we move through December and celebrate the Savior of the world, may we remain focused on our larger task – being prepared to meet Christ. Whether it is in the manger, face to face, or coming on the clouds, may we eagerly anticipate the coming of our Lord.

Prayer: Father God, in this season of Advent may I be ever ready to meet you. May I seek you in quiet study, in worship, in gathering with others, and in the face of the stranger. Amen.


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Ever Ready

Reading: Luke 12: 35-40

Verse 38: “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready”.

In Jesus’ words that we looked at yesterday, he instructed the disciples not to be afraid. He emphasized God’s pleasure in giving them the kingdom. Jesus also encourages his followers to find and store up treasures in heaven. In our passage today Jesus speaks of being ready both daily and for his return. For his contemporary audience, they first thought Jesus’ return was imminent. Holding onto the treasures of the earth was not a priority for them if Jesus would return soon. They gave to others in need generously because they expected Jesus to return very soon.

While we live knowing that, yes, Jesus could come back this afternoon, we do not live with much urgency about our faith. That future return seems a long way off. Being ready for that return does not feel pressing. We do not like to consider our own departure either. So we have grown complacent. In our passage today, Jesus addresses this tendency, saying, “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready”. For Jesus, being ready does not mean waiting or doing nothing. For Jesus, being ready means living an active faith. Like the men who immediately opened the door when their master returned, we too should be ready to jump into action for Jesus, our master. When an opportunity comes to minister to or to pray for or to serve another comes along we should be ready to live out our faith.

Jesus calls us to be ready for two things in today’s reading. In order to be ready, we must first be prepared. To be ready to live out our faith, we must be ready spiritually. God’s word must be fresh upon our lips and Christ’s servant heart must be guiding us. Busyness or laziness cannot consume our lives or we will miss the opportunity. We also must be ready ourselves to meet our Jesus. We must ever live in a right relationship with him – talking with him daily, confessing our sins regularly, studying his example… In all ways may we be ready for our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Dear God, help me to always be ready. Do not allow me to become complacent or lazy. Give me this day a servant’s heart, willing to serve all I meet. Amen.


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Discipleship Cost

Reading: Luke 8: 51-62

Verse 57: “A man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go'”.

As Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem he knows all about the cost of discipleship. In the first half of the passage, he meets some folks who aren’t quite ready for discipleship. They reject him – won’t even welcome him into their midst. Jesus rebukes James and John’s desire to punish them severely for not welcoming Jesus. They just are not ready yet. Jesus suggests they simply move on to the next place – perhaps some there will be more receptive.

Along the way they encounter three who sense a call to maybe follow Jesus. The common cultural commitment to follow a rabbi was a major 24/7 commitment. But most rabbis weren’t like Jesus and following them was different. To the first, the one who says “I will follow you wherever you go”, Jesus says following him won’t be comfortable. Jesus does not have a home base. He relies on those he meets along the way. Sometimes you just have to keep on going, hoping the next place is more welcoming. This isn’t what the man had in mind and he passes on following this rabbi.

Jesus next meets two more with some interest in following. Yet both have obstacles to following. Both have something else more important to do. Jesus’ basic response to both is the same. If you want to follow, 24/7 devotion is the expectation. One must be willing to prioritize Jesus above family and everything else if one is to truly follow. For these and for many, the cost is too high.

We began today with a story about some folks not even being willing to welcome Jesus and we follow up with three examples of not being able to follow once a desire to do so is felt. There is a high cost to choosing to say yes to the Lord and Savior of the world. May we each choose to count the cost and to make the costly choice of discipleship this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord, it is a hard and narrow road. The cost is sometimes physical, sometimes emotional, sometimes financial, sometimes social, and sometimes all of these. Grant me the strength and the will to choose to follow you only all of my days. Amen.


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Open and Obedient

Reading: Acts 16: 9-10

Verses 9-10: “Paul had a vision… ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’… We got ready at once”.

The book of Acts is the story of the growth and building of the early church. In today’s passage Paul receives a vision from God, calling him to go to Macedonia. The man asks him to come and “help us”. Paul is an apostle who preaches the good news of Jesus Christ. He is also a tent maker who practices his trade to support his missionary efforts. When Paul receives a call from God, it is not to make tents or to mow lawns or to paint houses or to fix roofs or to sort clothing. Paul is sent to do what he does best – to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.

You and I probably won’t have such visions. We might. But we are more likely to be nudged or whispered to by the Holy Spirit. God remains just as active today as He was in Paul’s day. God continues to lead and guide His people to humbly share the good news and to serve others. It might be to mow a lawn or to paint a house or to fix a roof or to sort some clothing. The way God nudges or whispers can also come in many forms. It can be in a conversation with another, in an observation as we pass by or consider a situation, in an invitation from a stranger or friend to help them with an opportunity to serve.

After Paul receives his vision, “we got ready at once”. There was no delaying, there was no procrastination, there was no fear or doubt. “We got ready at once”. God called, they responded. Immediately. They were ready to fulfill the mission that God had given them. Paul and his companions began the journey to Macedonia so that they could “preach the gospel to them”.

Paul’s vision and our nudges… have some common threads. First, it is a call from God to share His love. Second, it is God asking us to respond as a humble servant, seeking to bring God glory and to make His name known. To accomplish the mission, we, like Paul, must be open to hearing God (or feeling the nudge…). Then we must be obedient to respond in faith and in trust. When we step out in faith we find that, like Paul, God will lead and guide us well, walking step by step with us. May we be open to God’s call and obedient to follow. May both be true each day.

Prayer: Jehovah God, you provide over and over. This day, when I feel the nudge or hear the call, may I respond faithfully and obediently. May I step forward, trusting in your love and care. Amen.


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Diligently

Reading: Revelation 21: 1-6

Verse 4: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”.

I pastor in a rural community where many are involved in agriculture. In a small but real way, the farmers and ranchers live out the idea of a new earth each year. We all experience the seasons in South Dakota, but for me that mostly means I dress differently and such. In general, for me, life in October is much like life in April. But for those tied to the annual renewal of the earth, this is not the case.

As people of faith we live in this present time with a hopeful eye towards the time when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”. We look forward but we do so with patience. Yes, it will be wonderful beyond anything we can begin to imagine, but we are just fine if it a ways down the road. With this hope, though, we are called to live an active faith in the present. Within we are to spend time daily with God and to grow more in love with God in this way. Without we are to allow our faith and God’s love to color all we do and say and think. We are to live as humble servants in this time and place, diligently building the kingdom of God here and now.

In the agricultural community there is a parallel. During the winter months, when the fields are dormant, they do not just sit and stare out the window. They are actively preparing – planning and studying, readying machinery, purchasing the needed seeds… They diligently do all they can to insure the greatest possible success when the new season comes. If they use the best seeds for the season ahead and do all that they can to have the best crop, then a good harvest likely lies ahead.

The same is true of our faith and the journey we are on towards eternal life. May we each tend diligently to the things of God, preparing for the new that is to come.

Prayer: Lord God, this day may I sow good seeds of faith and hope within and without. May I do all I can, empowered by the Holy Spirit, walking closer to you day by day. Amen.