pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Here Am I

Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8

Verse 8: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?'”

Photo credit: Daniel Hooper

Imagine being in Isaiah’s place as chapter 6 opens! He has a vision or experience of heaven. He sees God on the throne, “high and exalted.” There are magnificent creatures, called “seraphs,” hovering above the throne. These beings with 6 wings sang in powerful voices, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is filled with God’s glory.” Their song shakes the doorposts and thresholds of heaven. What an amazing and powerful experience!

Suddenly, right in the middle of this splendor and might, Isaiah has a realization. He does not really “fit” in this perfect place. Discomfort riding, he blurts out, “Woe is me! I am ruined! I am a man of unclean lips.” Have you ever felt really out of place before? As the realization sunk in perhaps you too thought, “Oh no…” Isaiah also extends this thought to the people that God has sent him to. They are “a people of unclean lips.” Double trouble!

Yet God, our God of compassion and mercy and grace, recognizes Isaiah’s distress. One of the seraphs takes a live coal and touches Isaiah’s lips – those unclean lips – and says, “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” He is made right, able to stand holy and pure before God in that moment. It is like the moment when we’ve confessed and repented and take in the juice and the bread. Then too we stand for a moment perfect in God’s site.

Into this moment God asks, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” God needs a servant. God needs someone to minister to these people of unclean lips. This same needs exists today. Isaiah responds to God’s plea, saying, “Here am I. Send me.” May our response be the same.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to draw someone closer to you. By the power of the Holy Spirit living in me, send me to the one in need. There, give me the words that they need to hear. Amen.


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Good Grapes?

Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7

Verse 2: “He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.”

Photo credit: Nacho Dominguez Argenta

The first 7 verses of Isaiah 5 are titled “The Song of the Vineyard.” In the opening verse we learn that it is a song “for the one I love.” As the song begins we see that the loved one found a fertile hillside and tilled the soil, clearing the stones. Into this perfect soil the choicest vibes are planted. A watchtower and wine press are built. The vineyard planter awaits sweet, juicy grapes. It all sounds so beautiful. What awesome plans God has for the chosen people!

At the end of verse 2 we read, “He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.” What a taste it would leave in the mouth! Everything was given great attention, down to the smallest detail. What should have been the pride of all the world was far from it. It was foul! The only chosen people on all the earth – yet God now laments, saying, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?” God provided the Promised Land, clearing away every enemy, removing every stone. God provided laws to guide them and built walls for their safety.

But instead of holiness and righteousness shining forth from the city on a hill, they were yielding bad fruit. Greed, injustice, religious indifference – this was the bad fruit. In verses 5-7 we see the consequences, both physically and spiritually. All will be lost. This same scenario, this same choice plays out in our lives. God nurtures us and cares for us, protects us and provided for us. How will we respond? Will we reflect God’s holiness and care and compassion and righteousness? We too must decide. How will you respond?

Prayer: Lord God, prune away anything that is unholy or impure within me. Trim it away so that my life produces good fruit – fruit that is pleasing to you. Amen.


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Hear, Respond, Follow

Reading: John 10:25-30

Verse 27: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Today in John 10, Jesus answers the question posed in the section we read yesterday. Is he the Christ, the Messiah? First, he says to the Jews, “I told you but you do not believe.” Is this the first step of faith – to hear and to believe? I do not think so. Jesus goes on to speak of miracles – they weren’t enough to draw the Jews into belief. Seeing a miracle isn’t the first step to belief either.

Jesus goes on to connect belief to being one of his sheep. So what are the steps to become a sheep or a part of the family of believers? First, we hear and are drawn to the shepherd’s voice. It is an invitation heard and received. Like the first disciples, we must hear and respond to the call of Christ: “Come, follow me.”

As we begin to follow, a relationship begins to form. We get to know Christ and Christ gets to know us. The relationship and commitment deepens as we learn and grow into Christ. This process is strengthened by the Holy Spirit, the living presence of Christ, leading and guiding our journey. At some point we profess trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and we invite him into our heart. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in our heart as we make this lifelong decision. Doing so we receive the gift we read of in today’s passage: eternal life. We follow in this life to one day dwell in Christ’s eternal glory. Day by day we follow, growing closer and closer to what we will one day be in glory. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, help me to follow well. Give me ears that always hear your voice. Give me a heart that ever senses the call to continue growing and becoming more and more who you created me to be in Christ. And as I follow, use me so my life draws others into the flock. Use me this day. Amen.


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3 Lessons

Reading: Acts 9:36-43

Verse 39: “Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room.”

Photo credit: Shane

Today’s passage from Acts 9 is a miraculous story. And it also contains guidance for you and me.

As the passage begins Tabitha becomes ill and dies. Luke shares that she “was always doing good and helping the poor.” She was a model of the faith, a generous and humble servant. Tabitha was deeply loved by her community of faith and by those in need. Grief came upon those who loved her.

Hearing that Peter was nearby, the believers sent for him, urging him to “Please come at once!” In verse 39 we see his response: “Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room.” We do not know about Peter’s connection to Joppa or to this church or to Tabitha. What we do know is that he went at once to his brothers and sisters in need. This is lesson 1 for us.

When he arrives, Peter gives attention to those present, to those who are mourning. They want to show him their connection to Tabitha, to demonstrate the love that they shared. Peter allowed them to express their grief. Lesson 2 for us.

Lastly, Peter responded. He became present to the one that was so beloved. And he prayed. While the outcome was miraculous, the lesson remains: Peter prayed for the situation. In those times when we find ourselves unsure of what to do, may we also turn to the one who knows all things. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to be a loving and comforting presence in times of need or loss. Give me the courage to enter those difficult places and spaces; help me to trust in you alone. There, make my words your words, my hands your hands, my heart your heart. Amen.


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Living Out the Example

Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Verse 17: “Join with others in following my example… take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”

Paul’s words to the church in Philippi calls them to follow the example set by faithful followers of Jesus Christ. In the first verse of our passage, Paul invites them to “join with others in following my example.” Paul followed Jesus’ example and invites others to do as he did. Paul also recognizes those already doing so. Paul tells them to look around their church and to “take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” Follow the example already being lived out by some in the church who are living into Christ’s example of humble and sacrificial service.

We do not know exactly what this looked like in Philippi. Most likely it looked like what Jesus and his followers usually did: care for the orphans, the widows, and the sick; visit the prisoners and welcome in the strangers; clothe and feed those in need. It would also have included sharing God’s love and the hope found in an eternal relationship with God. Through his words in Philippians Paul also invites us to follow the example first set by Jesus and then lived out by Christians for many centuries.

When I look at the list above and when I think about Jesus’ example, I see it being lived out today. There are foster families in our churches. There are folks who check in on, shop for, and give rides to widows and to those who are ill. There are folks who give regularly to the local food bank and others who bring requested items – hats and gloves in one season, toys and gifts for families in need during another season. And there are others yet who support the ministries and causes of the church with financial gifts. And there are still others who live out God’s love by inviting folks to church and by welcoming and engaging those who visit. There are many ways that Christ’s love and example are being loved out.

For each of us personally, as we consider Paul’s charge and the many ways people of faith can respond, the question is: how are we each living out the example set by Jesus?

Prayer: Lord God, help me to know my role and my fit. Guide me in the ways and means that you gifted me to be of humble service. Steer me away from saying ‘yes’ because I’m supposed to. Use me to share your love and healing with those that you place in my life. Amen.


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Exalt the Lord!

Reading: Psalm 99:6-9

Verse 9: “Exalt the Lord our God, worship at the holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.”

Photo credit: Ben White

In the second half of our Psalm for this week the psalmist reminds us of God’s faithfulness to Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. These are but a few of the many examples of God faithfully responding to the prayers of the faithful. We are also reminded today of how God “spoke to them from the pillar of cloud.” During the exodus from Egypt, the pillar of cloud was a constant companion to the Israelites. It was a physical representation of an eternal truth: God is always with us.

Verse eight acknowledges another truth: God is both a forgiving God and a punishing God. Over the grand arc of scripture we see that most of the time forgiveness is God’s primary preference. But at times God acts to break open hard hearts or to force an end to sinful living. For our God who is quick to forgive, meeting out consequences is always a final or last resort. When we find ourselves in the valley or in a difficult situation sometimes we can confuse God’s patience with the feeling that we are being punished.

When we pray to God we often expect answers now. Staying in that place of discomfort or pain or disorientation is not anything we like. But God always has a plan, a purpose, a good. During the suffering we might even feel separated from God, alone in our struggle. Often we only see what God was up to well after we emerge from the trial. These moments of reflection and insight build trust in God and deepen our relationship with God. These allow us to follow the call of the psalmist, declaring, “Exalt the Lord our God, worship at the holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.” May it always be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen my faith day by day. On the good days lead me to joyfully celebrate your love and presence in my life. On the bad days, remind me again of your faithfulness, goodness, and holiness, leading me to walk in faith. 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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Prepared

Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8

Verse 8: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?'”

Photo credit: Michal Matlon

Today we begin to look at Isaiah’s call story in chapter 6. But before we do, a quick overview of chapters 1-5. These chapters contain a vision from God concerning Judah and Jerusalem. These chapters speak of a rebellious nation and the judgment to come. They speak of the day of the Lord that is also coming and of the branch of the Lord that will be “beautiful and glorious,” that will “wash away the filth”. These chapters are part of and lead up to the text we read today.

As chapter 6 begins, Isaiah is in God’s presence. Seraphs fly and worship God, declaring, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty…” Doorposts and thresholds shake; the space is filled with smoke. Isaiah shrinks back in this setting, realizing that he is a “man of unclean lips”. He recognizes that he is a sinner in the presence of the holy. What an amazing presence that must’ve been. God extends mercy. A seraph takes a coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips, declaring him forgiven and cleansed from his sin.

Prepared in this way, Isaiah hears the Lord ask, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” His response comes quickly: “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah realizes that the Lord is calling him specifically. He has been readied – both by his experiences in the proceeding chapters and by the cleansing – and he responds accordingly. As we consider this passage, we are invited to reflect on our own call story. I ask: When have you been called? And what had God done to prepare you for that call?

God remains present and active in our world and in our lives. As God leads and guides us there are many things that help us grow in our faith, many things that prepare us for the next step. Whatever the call of God currently resounding in our hearts, God has prepared us too to respond. Like Isaiah, may we faithfully say to God, “Here am I. Send me!”

Prayer: Lord God, as you draw me into ministry, instill a holy confidence in me. By the power of the Holy Spirit remind me of how you’ve readied me. Use me, O God. Send me out, O Lord. Amen.


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God Answers

Reading: 1st Samuel 1: 12-20

Verse 17: “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

Photo credit: Jakob Braun

Hannah has prayed and prayed. She has prayed for years and years for a child. She remained barren. She has prayed and prayed for relief from Peninnah’s taunts and cruelty. The pain and hurt persists. Yet year after year she prays. It can be hard to continue to pray day after day, never mind year after year.

Back when I went into pastoral ministry there was a building that I would walk around and pray over. Originally it was a car dealership and most recently the hospital’s laundry facility. The hospital decided to build a modern laundry facility on the hospital grounds. The land-locked church that I was a part of was next to this building. I would walk along the building, running my hand along the bricks, praying for God to use this space for the church’s growing ministries. Day after day I’d walk and pray. Teams and other individuals from the church would also do prayer walks around the building. Eventually the new space was ready and the hospital began to vacate the building. The lead pastor and I were able to walk around inside the space, beginning to dream of what could be. Each day I would prayer walk around the building. The church even contacted the hospital to express our interest. Day after day, month after month, praying.

Hannah prayed and prayed. One day she is praying in the temple. Pouring out her heart would be more accurate. The priest Eli notices. After some conversation he is moved by her anguish and grief. He blessed her, saying, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” God responds to her prayers and to the blessing – she has a son. God’s timing aligned with Hannah’s prayers. God made a way forward.

One random day two men walked into the church. They let us know that they had bought the building and were going to start a new microbrewery. Gut punch. Hurt, anger, despair, doubt – these were the initial feelings. There might have even been a few sideways glances cast heavenward. Then the walking and praying resumed. As I walked along, touching the bricks, I prayed that God would one day use the space for ministry. I acknowledged that God’s plans are bigger than my plans, that God’s ways are higher than my ways. Although ministry has moved me on to other churches and other prayer focuses, when I’m back in the neighborhood, I sometimes still lift a prayer to God when I pass by that building and run my hand along the bricks. Our God still answers big, bold prayers. God did for Hannah. God will for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, you are faithful and true, loving and generous. Continue to lead and guide the ministries of your church. Continue to lead us to dream dreams and to see visions. Keep us ever at work building your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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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.