pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Faithful Responding

Reading: Proverbs 22: 8-9 and 22-23

Verses 22-23: “Do not exploit the poor… for the Lord will take up their cause.”

Photo credit: Spencer Davis

In our passage from Proverbs the focus remains in those with and those without. Care and concern for the poor and needy is a very common theme throughout the scriptures. In the Law are provisions for the least of these – laws about not harvesting every single head of grain so there was still some left for the needy and guidelines for welcoming in the alien and stranger in your midst. Verse nine illustrates well the understanding of this charge to care for those in need: “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.” Blessings come from living out the heart of God.

Today we tend to see the care of the needy and poor one of two ways: that’s someone else’s job (either the governments or the pastors) or… here’s some money to help with that. Both approaches fail to comprehend the heart of God and the way we are called to truly care for those in need. Solomon did not say the generous man gave food to the poor. He shared his food with the poor. This implies sitting at the table together, sharing both food and time with one another. In a similar way the guidelines mentioned above implied opening your door and welcoming the other into your home to share in your generous hospitality. The heart of God is all about relationships and walking together with those that God places in our path and on our hearts.

In verses 22 and 23 we hear both a caution and a warning: “Do not exploit the poor… for the Lord will take up their cause.” The poor and needy tend to be powerless and voiceless. They are easy targets for some to take advantage of and for others to simply ignore. Jesus calls us to do just the opposite. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), for example, the plight of the man in need is the focus. The one who cared for the man in need is the one whom Jesus called us to “go and do likewise.” In our lives the voice or nudge of the Holy Spirit often reminds us of our call to care for such as these. This is the Lord taking up their cause. So when the Spirit speaks may we be faithful in responding to the need before us. Doing so we will not only bless the other but we will be blessed ourselves.

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, your love for me is no more or no less than your love for my neighbor. Your care and concern for me is the same as your care and concern for the one far from you. Open my heart to live out these truths: all are loved, all are worthy and valued, all deserve to be cared for. With an open and willing heart, guide my hands and feet today. Amen.


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God’s Abundance

Reading: John 6: 1-13

Verse 13: “So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten”.

Photo credit: Abram Mourad Blokpoel

As our story gets going Jesus poses a question to one of the disciples. He asks Philip but I bet he asked loud enough for all twelve disciples to hear the question. Philip responds that it would take a lot of money to feed the large crowd gathering to see Jesus. Most of the other disciples were probably thinking along these lines. Andrew offers up sort of a solution – a boy with five loaves and two fish. Even Andrew wonders aloud how far that would possibly go “among so many”.

When the Holy Spirit places us in a similar situation or prompts us to step out in faith, how do we respond? Do we see limitations or the scarcity of potential resources? Or do we see and step into the possibility of what God might do?

After having the crowd of 5,000 men (plus women and children) sit down, Jesus gives thanks and begins passing out the loaves and fish. Was it 10,000 or 15,000 that ate their fill that day? Would there have been any limit? Not this day. When the meal is over, Jesus has the disciples gather what is left over. There are twelve baskets filled with leftovers – one for each disciple. I wonder if Jesus had them each carry their full basket around for a few days as a tangible reminder of God’s abundance.

This story reveals one of the truths of God’s kingdom: there is more than enough. There is more than enough love, grace, mercy, kindness, and even food. Do we trust God enough to generously share what we have, knowing that God can and will do amazing things?

Prayer: Lord, give me hands that offer instead of fingers that grasp. Grant me a heart that lives into your abundance, blessing others on the journey. Amen.


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Go, Trust, Hear

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse 3: “When I called, you answered me”.

Photo credit: Alex Woods

David begins Psalm 138 with a declaration of praise. He will praise God with all of his heart and will sing of God before the “gods”. Even in David’s day there were many gods – the false gods of the pagan people all around Israel as well as the gods of this world that the Israelites chased: power, wealth, recognition. To declare one’s allegiance to God in the face of all these other gods is an important statement to make. David goes on to identify God’s love and faithfulness as the focus of his praise. These characteristics of God drive his relationship with God and will drive ours as well.

In verse three David gives us an example of how he experiences these two characteristics. Here he writes, “When I called, you answered me”. When David turned to God in prayer, God was there, God responded. This too is driven by love and faithfulness – both in David’s prayer and in God’s connection with David. We too can experience this intimacy with God. We too can turn to God and enter into his presence. We too can receive answers from God.

In the remainder of verse three we see the result of this intimate connection with God: “you made me bold and stouthearted”. David’s faith grew, deepened, was strengthened. As David did, may we also go to God in prayer, trusting in God’s love and faithfulness, waiting upon his presence. May we have ears to listen and hearts to perceive God’s response.

Prayer: Loving and faithful God, I praise you this day! You are ever attentive, always present. Continue to strengthen and deepen my relationship with you and my walk of faith. Give me patience to trust into your love, to lean into your presence. Amen.


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Fit for Service??

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse 5: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips… and my eyes have seen the King”.

Photo credit: Michal Matlon

Today and tomorrow we read of God’s call on Isaiah’s life. In the opening chapters of the book of Isaiah the case is laid out for why the Israelites desperately need a prophet to speak God’s word to them. They are the “people of unclean lips” that Isaiah lives among.

As the story of his call opens in chapter six Isaiah finds himself face to face with God Almighty. The Lord is on the throne and “the train of his robe fills the temple”. The Lord is a very big presence in Isaiah’s vision. All around the Lord are seraphs, amazing creatures with six wings. Covering their faces and their feet in reverance to the Lord, they sing of God’s holiness and glory. Their worship is so powerful that the heavens shake and smoke fills the temple. Isaiah’s response is honest and raw. He is both humbled and afraid to be in God’s presence.

In verse five we hear Isaiah’s response: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips… and my eyes have seen the King”. If I were to come face to face with God, I don’t think my reaction would be much different. When the imperfect encounters the perfect, when the limited encounters the limitless, it is natural to want to shrink back, to want to become invisible. The contrast is just so great. And yet God chose to bring Isaiah into his presence. God saw Isaiah not as imperfect or limited or as sinful but as one worthy of service in the kingdom of God.

Like Isaiah, you and I are people of unclean lips. You and I live among a people of unclean lips, in a nation that has drifted from the Lord. God does not look at us and see failure or sin or imperfection. He looks at you and me and sees another fit for service in building the kingdom of God. Draw into his presence, how will we respond?

Prayer: Lord God, I marvel that you can use even me. Long a man of unclean lips and one that still stumbles now and then, you still chose me. You drew me into your presence, you began to work in me. Thankfully you saw more within me than I did and you’ve been drawing that out. Please continue to work in me and to use me as you will. Amen.


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Our Salvation

Reading: Acts 4: 11-12

Verse 12: “Salvation is found in no one else”.

Photo credit: Hans Heiner Buhr

Peter makes a bold proclamation – salvation is through Christ alone. He is remembering the words Jesus himself said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). This bold claim asserts that faith in Christ is the only way to eternal life. All other paths end in condemnation. For all of its love and mercy and grace and forgiveness… this is Christianity’s hinge point. “Salvation is found in no one else”.

Belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is essential to gaining eternal life, but the offer of a relationship and of belief is not exclusive. Jesus made it clear in how he lived his life and in his teachings that all who are willing to profess faith in him will be received into his kingdom. Jesus ministered to all, regardless of who or what they were. Prostitutes, adulterers, rebels, thieves on crosses – all were within his love. Jews, men, women, rich, poor, young, old, Samaritan – all were within his love. Did all accept his love? No. Did all enter into a saving relationship? No. Did he call out to all he met? Yes. Does Jesus call out to all people today, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, occupation…? Yes. Do some still reject Jesus as Lord and Savior? Absolutely.

As ones assured of our salvation, how should we respond to the answers to these questions? We should respond as the good shepherd would. Love should lead and guide all we say and think and do. Grace and mercy should abound in our lives. All should see and experience our humble and sacrificial servant’s heart. Everyone should see the life-transforming power of Jesus Christ active within us. May Jesus, our salvation, use each of us to bring others to the gate of the sheep fold.

Prayer: Loving God, use me today as a conduit of your love and grace. In and through me may others see your son, the giver of salvation. Amen.


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Wait on Love

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Verses 10-11: “Then the disciples went back to their homes; but Mary stood outside the tomb crying”.

Very early in the morning Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. She is alone. She is filled with grief. She is still drawn to Jesus and his love. She returns to the scene of the end of a horrific day.

Seeing the stone has been rolled away, Mary runs to tell Peter and John. The two disciples run to the tomb – only to discover it as Mary had said. Only the grave cloths remain inside the tomb. Peter and John spend but a moment. “Then the disciples went back to their homes; but Mary stood outside the tomb crying”.

Peter and John return home. Clearly something is going on here. They go home. I too am like this sometimes. The Holy Spirit nudges me. Perhaps something is there – an opportunity to bless another, a chance to share the table with the other… I see the chance, but I go home.

Mary Magdalene lingers. She stands outside the tomb and criee, even though it is empty. Jesus is not here. She stands and cries, expressing the next wave of grief, responding to this next twist in the story. Looking into the tomb again, Mary sees two angels. They ask, “Woman, why are you crying”? Jesus is missing! Turning around, sensing someone behind her, she is asked the same question again, followed by, “Who is it you are looking for”? Through sobs and tears Mary inquires of Jesus’ whereabouts.

Mary has not lost her focus. Even though grief and heartache are almost overwhelming her, Jesus’ love is greater. Even though hope seems lost to the grave, Jesus’ love still draws her. “Mary”. He says her name. Love races past grief. Joy bounds by heartache. Hope soars over despair. “Mary”. He calls her name.

Mary lingered. She waited on love. Mary runs to disciples with great news: “I have seen the Lord”! This day, especially this day, may we linger, may we wait on love.

Prayer: God of all, your loves draws us in. Your love calls us to stay, to linger. In those sacred moments of waiting on the holy, draw us deeper into your love. Pour out upon us the blessings of the joy of resurrection! Amen.


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Two Actions

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Continuing on from yesterday’s passage, Jesus gathers his disciples and the crowd to explain the cost of following. Having just explained the price that he will pay, Jesus details what will be expected of those who choose to follow him as Lord and Savior. The words that Jesus speaks are powerful and challenging. His words will become even more so as the disciples reflect on the events of the last week of Jesus’ life.

Jesus identifies two actions one must take to “come after” or to “follow” him. The first is to “deny self”. This is what Jesus lived out his whole ministry. He placed the needs and wants of God first, closely followed by the needs and wants of others. Self was a very distant third. If we were to follow Jesus today, what would this look like? It would begin with listening to the Holy Spirit, the indwelling presence of God in our lives. The second step would be to respond to the guidance and direction of said Spirit as we respond to the needs of those we meet day by day. Jesus saw the other, the lonely, the hurting, the hungry… and ministered them as he encountered them. May we too have ears to hear and eyes to see.

The second action is to “take up” our cross. The cross represents the way of Jesus. For Jesus it was ultimately walking the path to suffering and death for the sake of others – for you and me. Along the way Jesus often took up the cross for others. He took up the cause of the marginalized and the sinners and the outcasts and declared them worthy of his time and of the kingdom of God. Each of these encounters against the powers of the world came with a price too. The way of Jesus calls us to sacrifice as well. Jesus calls us away from the things of this world by reminding us that the cost of trying to “gain the whole world” is to “forfeit” our soul. In contrast, following Jesus will save our soul. Giving up our selfish desires and leanings and focusing on Jesus’ example of sacrificial service will lead us to bless others as we live out the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ. May it be so as we seek to bring God the glory.

Prayer: Lord God, tune me in to the Holy Spirit within me. Guide me to not only hear but to respond, offering all I can to those I meet in the world around me. Empower me to shine your light in all I do and say. Amen.


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Draw Others to Him

Reading: John 1: 43-51

Verse 46: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there”?

Philip is sold immediately that Jesus is the one, the Messiah, the Savior. Something about Jesus and something inside Philip connect and he responds to a simple invitation: “Follow me”. Some people come to Jesus this way. In a moment he is what they need or who they find healing or peace or strength or mercy in, and they believe in him. Most of us, however, are more like Nathanael – doubtful, skeptical, questioning. When invited to come to meet this Jesus, he scoffs: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there”? What good could ever come out of that small, insignificant town in Galilee?

People today might not question where Jesus came from, but we do question what he could do for us. What difference could Jesus possibly make in my life? Like Nathanael, we question and we doubt. We scoff. Even some who were raised in the church come to a place of questioning, of doubting. I was raised in the church – Sunday school, worship, confirmation, choir, youth group – the whole nine yards. I knew who Jesus was and I followed on the surface. I followed the parts that I wanted to. In college, I “drifted” even further. Life was just fine sort of being a Christian. Then things were not so good and I found myself seeking the Lord – and he was there. I met Jesus in a way that I hadn’t before. My walk with the Lord began anew.

Nathanael was one without anything false in him. Jesus called him a “true Israelite”. Even though Jesus was not what he expected, and even though he was skeptical, Nathanael went to meet Jesus. He was initially draw by Philip’s testimony. He knew about the Messiah, he had been raised in the “church”. There are many who know about Jesus, even some who have drifted. Today and each day of our lives, may our faith in Jesus Christ draw others to come and see, to meet him in a new way. May we, like Philip, invite others to meet our Jesus so that he can do “greater things” in their lives too.

Prayer: Living God, may your light shine brightly within me, being a light others see and are drawn to. Help me to be invitational, encouraging others to come and meet Jesus, the Savior, the Messiah. Amen.


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God Still Speaks

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse 6: “Again the Lord called, ‘Samuel'”!

We begin this week’s readings with the calling of Samuel. One night when Samuel lay down in the temple, as he had done for many years, God decided to speak to him. In some ways it must have been a shock but in other ways it was expected. To understand why, a little background from the previous chapter. Samuel was, after all, born to Hannah, the fruit of a desperate prayer to the Lord. This barren woman had taken her case to God and he responded. Eli was there that day in the temple as she poured our her heart and her pain. After understanding her prayer, Eli blessed her, saying, “May the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him”. When he is born, Hannah names him ‘Samuel’ “because I asked the Lord for him”. After Samuel is weaned he is brought to the temple so that “his whole life is given over to the Lord”. Samuel is raised in the temple by Eli, learning much about God. So, it is not a shock when God calls, “Samuel”!

Samuel’s story reminds me of my story and perhaps it also reminds you of your story. Long before I began to remember things for myself, my parents brought me before the Lord and baptized me, committing my life to a faithful walk with the Lord. My birth was an answer to prayer, some comfort to hurting hearts. Although I did not live at the church, worship and Sunday school were regular parts of my childhood. Youth group eventually replaced Sunday school. I was confirmed and became a member of the Congregational church. During my high school years I made the personal decision to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Perhaps your faith journey is similar to mine and, therefore, to Samuel’s. God has long been at work in our lives. God knows us well.

It took Samuel a while to realize that God was speaking to him and he needed Eli’s help to realize it. This too I recognize in my life. I do not always recognize that it is God “speaking” to me. At times I too need others to help me recognize the whispers, the nudged, the guidance. Sometimes three calls are just the beginning of the process for me.

Just as with Samuel, God has plans for our lives. God will call and call, full of patience and love. As we live out our faith each day, may we grow in our connection to the Lord so that we too are faithful in responding, “Speak, for your servant is listening”.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your faithful and persistent call upon my life. I am grateful for each person that has helped me to hear the call throughout my life. Open my eyes and heart to hear you better and better each time you call. Give me a willing spirit, ever ready to respond. Amen.


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Look Upon Us

Reading: Isaiah 64: 5b-9

Verse 8: “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter”.

As we continue in Isaiah 64 today, the second half of the passage begins in verse 5b with an admission: “When we continued to sin, you were angry”. Yes, God will come to the help of those who do right, but the sinners? Isaiah asks the correct question: “How then can we be saved”? As a people living in sin, the Israelites were taken into exile. God still loves them, but what can God do with his children who continue in their rebellion? The prophet laments that they have become “unclean” and that their faith has “shriveled up” like a dry leaf. In verse seven his words are honest: “No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you”. The situation, the condition of the people’s faith, is not good. Yet there is hope. There is always hope with God.

In verse eight Isaiah speaks of that hope: “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter”. Our God never gives up on us. Yes, we may choose to distance ourselves from God and from our relationships with one another. Our sin leads to separation. Even in the midst of our sin, even then we can cry out to God. Like a petulant child, we cry out only half-heartedly because we remain unclean. We want our way and we want God to do our will too. At that point God hears but does not respond. This is where almost all of Isaiah’s audience is at spiritually. Yet the one who speaks for God has hope. Isaiah knows that God can and will reshape the people. Through the process of defeat and exile, God will fashion Israel back into obedient children once again. Our passage ends with a humble plea: “Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people”.

In this season, especially in this time of division and discord, in this time of online worship and personal distancing, in this time of illness and loss, Lord, look upon us. We pray for all of your people. Great potter, shape us into something new.

Prayer: Lord God, show us the way. Help me to work through this discord in my soul, through this time of unease. Bring healing to our land, O God. Not just physical healing but also spiritual and emotional and relational healing. Unite us, O Lord, in your love and grace and mercy. Amen.