pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Touch and See, Question and Wrestle

Reading: Luke 24: 36-43

Verse 39: “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see”.

Photo credit: Jennifer Araujo

What was the last thing you saw or read or heard about that you had to find out more about before you believed or accepted it? For me it was and is a personality test that I learned about on Thursday. It was interesting so I read more about it on my own. I took the test yesterday and am just starting to unpack the results. I am starting to think this could be a useful and helpful tool to understand myself better.

Jesus appears for the third time in Luke’s gospel. The first appearance was to the women outside the tomb and the second was to two followers on the road to Emmaus. The disciples have heard from these folks that Jesus is alive – he is risen! In our reading for today, Jesus appears to the disciples. Hearing that he has risen must have prepared them at least a little bit. Yet when they actually see Jesus, standing among them, they are startled and frightened. Maybe this is a ghost. Jesus senses their doubts. He says, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see”. This physical proof moved them to joy and excitement. But not to full belief.

It would have been a lot to take in. Heads and hearts must have been spinning if not reeling. Jesus slows things down for the disciples. He asks, “Do you have anything here to eat”? He pauses, receives the fish, and eats it in their presence. Jesus joins them in a tangible way, around food and the table. More present to him, Jesus then goes on to explain all that has happened and then to paint the picture of what will soon happen. More on that tomorrow!

Our faith journey is similar to that of these disciples. We hear and even read about Jesus. We experience pastors and teachers and even the Holy Spirit unpacking the scriptures for us. We have times of fear and doubt and questioning. We too are on a journey. We too must take the time to read and study, to explore and wrestle, to touch and see Jesus. Like these disciples, we will be greatly blessed. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Living God, continue to draw me in more and more, deeper and deeper. As I learn and grow, study and wrestle, question and doubt, walk with me, illumine me, refine me. Amen.


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The Beauty and Wonder

Reading: Psalm 19: 1-6

Verse 1: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”.

Photo credit: Ryan Hutton

Walking home from our high school small group last night I paused part way up the hill. My gaze was drawn upward. As I looked up, I saw the expanse of stars shining in the dark sky. I was filled with a sense of awe and wonder. God must have been preparing me for this morning’s reading.

As I look out the window that faces west the sun is slowly rising in the east, just beginning to bathe the houses at the foot of the hills in light. The pines and snow that covers the hills become clearer and clearer as the sun continues to rise. This daily rhythm also connects me to God and reminds me of his love and care for our world.

The psalmist rejoices in the work of God’s hands in our passage today. The sun, moon, and stars speak of God’s glory throughout the world. Just as I am drawn into God’s presence by the rising of the sun, at the same moment someone on the other side of the world is being amazed by the sun’s setting. The “voice” of God is constantly speaking, making humanity ever aware of God’s presence, of his design, of his love and care for you and for me and for all of creation.

As we go through our day today, may we pay attention, may we notice God’s handiwork. In those moments, may we too pause and worship God for the beauty and wonder if creation.

Prayer: Lord God, you speak to me in so many ways. Thank you for the small ways in which you take my breath away and for the slow moments when your light and presence reveal the world to me. Amen.


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New as Well as Old

Reading: Matthew 13:52

Verse 52: “Therefore every teacher… who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven… brings out new treasures as well as old”.

At what I would consider my “home” church, back when I was still a middle school teacher, I was part of the team that began a contemporary worship service. That was over twenty years ago. At the time it caused a lot of angst and even some division in the church. When the service outgrew the “Upper Room” and needed to shift to the sanctuary, then we really upset the apple cart. Change is hard, especially when it involves something new and relatively unknown to many people in the group or organization. But a quick survey of almost every church offering contemporary worship will reveal that that service is their best attended service. Change can be good and positive and even life giving.

When I moved into full-time ministry just over right years ago, one of my secret inner fears was one day being appointed to a small, rural church with just an organ or piano that only sang hymns on Sunday mornings. Since helping start the contemporary worship service that was the only service I had attended. When we were out of town on a weekend, we would find a church to visit with a contemporary service. But after just a couple of months in pastoral ministry I came to realize that I loved the hymns and liturgy of traditional worship. Holding onto the past, to the tried and true, very often has its place. It is often the key component of a group or organization’s core identity. It is essential to who “we” are.

In today’s verse Jesus is talking about this same idea – the old and the new. Talk about someone with first-hand insight on holding onto the past yet also doing something new. If we keep nothing but the old in our faith and in our churches, then we become old. We all know what eventually happens to the old. But we cannot just change it all overnight either. Then folks look around and wonder where they are. Balance is the key.

The same is true for our lives and for our journey of faith. Growth is most often a slow and steady process that involves melding the good new with the good old. In our faith and in our churches may we be open to the new even as we hold onto the roots and traditions that make us the children of God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to know, to discern, how and when and where to go in a new direction and why and where to keep the tried and true. Both are central to a healthy and growing faith and to a strong and vibrant church. Lead and guide me, I great Jehovah. Amen.


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In God’s Image

Reading: Genesis 1:26 – 2:4a

Verse 28: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it”.

Our passage today begins with God creating humanity in “our image, in our likeness”. This description says we are to be like God in how we look and act, in how we think and feel. God is loving and kind, merciful and forgiving, compassionate and slow to anger, creative and life giving. While this is just a partial list of God’s qualities it begins to inform how we should understand the rest of our passage for today.

For a long time this passage has been used in ways that are less than loving and kind, less than merciful and forgiving… Did you notice that I used “humanity” in the opening sentence instead of “man”, as it reads in most Bibles? The norm for a long, long time in our world was to read “man” and then to make the leap to the idea that the male part of our species was created in God’s image and that women were not, therefore they were less. Ask most women today if they still feel the negative affects of this misunderstanding of God’s word today, in 2020, and they will affirm that equality is still not everywhere the same. This bias and its impact is slowly, very slowly, fading.

The earth itself has endured similar treatment due to the word “subdue”. Almost all who preach this text will use the words “care for” or “steward” nowadays. Not so long ago humanity looked at the earth as ours to take from as we pleased, often abusing nature for our gain and pleasure. Humanity in most parts of the world no longer strips forests bare or leaves large tracts of land looking like a war zone. As a whole humanity cares better for the created world than we did just 50 years ago. But many scars remain.

How would our world and our relationships with one another be different if we truly lived out our Creator’s image? What would our world look like without bias and prejudice, without racism and hatred? What would it look like if we treated the earth and all of its creatures as if they were our children?

Prayer: Loving God, today these questions ring differently than they would have just a couple of weeks or a few months ago. The call to live in your image is louder today than ever before. May I answer the call well today. May I be your love and kindness, your care and compassion… lived out today. May it be. Amen.


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Ears to Listen

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4:9a

Verse 4b: “He awakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught”.

As I read the opening verse of today’s passage I am drawn to God’s call to each of us. As I read the rest of the passage, yes, my mind was drawn to Jesus. But today, for some reason, that feels like too much for me. As I read and reread verse four, James’ words kept coming to me: “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19).

Isaiah begins verse four by acknowledging that the Lord has given him an “instructed tongue”. With this gift he is able to share words that “sustain the weary”. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we all have this same gift. Maybe you are like me and cannot quote scripture very well. And maybe you are like me and tend to have a rush of doubt right before stepping into whatever opportunity God places before you. Yet whether it was a simple phone call to check in on someone or stepping into an ER room just after someone passed, the Holy Spirit has always been faithful. The words have come. Through the power of the Spirit, Jesus Christ will be at work in and through you too as you faithfully offer words of hope, words that sustain and bring comfort to the weary.

Today, though, the second half of verse four speaks to me: “He awakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught”. To listen. To hear another’s heart. To draw close to their fears, their loneliness, their hurt. To listen. It is a wonderful gift we all have. I encourage you today to reach out, to turn your ears to another. Call a friend or two, reach out to a neighbor or older person who might be having a hard time, who might feel isolated or afraid. And listen. Listen to their heart. And if the Holy Spirit leads, offer words of assurance and hope, words of love and care. Be Christ to others today.

Prayer: Father of all, point me to whom you want me to go. Lead and guide me as you will today. Amen.


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Living Faith?

Reading: Isaiah 1:1 and 10-15

Verse 11: “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”?

Our passage today has some pretty tough words for Israel. In verse ten Isaiah compares them to Sodom and Gomorrah – two towns that were so evil that God wiped them from the face of the earth. If that were not enough, God goes on to say, “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”? It is just empty offering after empty offering after empty offering. God has had enough and finds no pleasure in such actions. The stream of offerings is compared to “trampling” in the temple. For a people and religion built upon the sacrificial system, it is quite a thing to hear God say, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings”.

To what would God compare this in today’s church? What motion or actions are we going through that feel to God as if it were meaningless? Where is our worship far away from our actual living?

A big part of what was driving God to make such a declaration was how the people were living out their faith. They were failing miserably. Yes, they were going through the motions of worship and sacrifices. Their hearts were far from God. It showed most in those easiest to neglect and abuse. The poor were being oppressed and the widows and orphans were being neglected. Those without power and those without voice were not being taken care of. These are the ones nearest to the heart of God. They are far from the hearts of God’s people. They were showing up on the Sabbath and they were checking the sacrifice boxes. And then they were leaving the temple and returning to the world where they took advantage of their workers, used unfair scales in the market, and ignored the cries of the needy. Today this would equate to those who leave church on Sunday to eat, drink, and be merry while swearing at the TV as their team loses or to those who use dishonest business practices to earn a little more profit. Do such as these show up on Sunday morning and then go out and neglect the poor and needy around them?

Verse fifteen ends with a tough indictment: “Your hands are full of blood”. If said today, what would God be referring to in our lives? What must change so that our worship leads us out the door and into acts of mercy and kindness and love?

Prayer: God, it can be easy to focus on self or to rush through devotions or worship to get on with life. Slow me down, soften my heart, attune my ears to their cries, and open my eyes to see their realities. Lead me to action, living out my faith in ways that are pleasing to you. Amen.


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All in All

Reading: Colossians 3: 1-11

Verse 1: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above”.

Paul is writing to the Colossian church. He opens the letter in chapter one with prayers for the church, reminds them that Jesus Christ is the head of the church, and that they have been reconciled to God through Christ’s death and resurrection. In chapter two Paul reminds them that they must claim their faith and that he is praying for them. In my Bible, today’s section is titled “Rules for Holy Living”. Understanding these ‘rules’ is a gradual and evolving process. For most of us, this is a slow but steady lifelong process.

When I first met David I had no idea who he had been. Maybe the long hair and slightly loud personality could have hinted at his story. David had church in his childhood but stepped away in his early adult years. His life had become one of fast cars, fast boats, and a fast life. David had money and became involved in the drug world. Soon he was always racing to stay a step ahead of the law. He wove into his story that his mom and grandma were always praying for him. Then one day, in a face to face with mortality and the finite nature of the life he knew, David reached out to God in desperation. God reached back. It began David on the journey to being a servant of Jesus Christ.

In Colossians 3 Paul writes, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above”. The people in the Colossian church had died to the world and were raised to new life in Christ. In verse two Paul also encourages them to set things minds on the things above. In verses five and eight Paul lists several things to not do and lists things to be rid of. These are the things of the world. These are the things many people chase after.

It is hard to set these aside and to always put on the things above. It is, in fact, impossible to do on our own. In verses nine and ten Paul shows how God makes it possible. In Christ we can take off the old self and put on the new self. The new self is renewed day by day. This is part of our lifelong faith journey. Paul concludes our passage today by writing, “Christ is all and is in all”. That became true for my friend David, it is becoming true for me, and it can become true for you. May it be so.

Prayer: God, I am far from perfect but I strive to become more like your perfect son every day. Fill me more with Jesus day by day, making Christ my all in all. Amen.


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The Choice

Reading: Luke 10: 38-42

Verse 42b: “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her”.

Mary chooses the better part and Jesus will not be taken from her. Mary chooses to be present to and with Jesus. Mary chooses life over the world. Once she has chosen Jesus as her Lord and Savior, she has claimed her connection to the eternal one. By her actions, Mary declares that Jesus is the Lord of her life. She will follow Jesus.

All Christians come to the same decision point. We first come to know our personal need for Jesus, for a Savior. Then, at some point, we make the choice to surrender our life to follow Jesus. We make the conscious choice to die to self and to the desires of this world so that we can humbly follow Jesus’ example. We make the choice daily to spend time with Jesus and to worship God alone.

Martha has not quite made the choice to follow. She knows about Jesus and she has heard about the miracles. In time she will profess that Jesus as the Messiah, as Lord (John 11). Martha will join Mary to sit before the throne. But for now the tasks at hand – all the work that must be done for her guests – this consumes her. She feels so much pressure to meet the world’s expectations that her stress finally boils over in verse 40, where she asks the guest to intervene with Mary. She has become so distracted that she asks Jesus to pry her sister away from the better choice. Jesus will not do it. He simply points out Martha’s excessive worrying and the distraction that it has become. Jesus also reminds her of the fact that only one thing is needed. He reminds us too.

Our story ends without knowing the outcome. Does Martha go back to cooking, to offer the hospitality that she can at the moment? Does she stop and sit at Jesus’ feet, offering the best form of hospitality – being present to the guest? All of us wrestle with this choice. Even as a Christian and as a pastor I struggle to always slow down, to always lay aside the to-do list, to take the opportunity to be fully present to the other. I want to be more like Mary and less like Martha. May the Holy Spirit lead and guide me and you to slow down and to connect with Jesus so that his light and love shines in and through us.

Prayer: Lord, lead and guide me each day to recognize and take those extra opportunities you provide to stop and engage the other, encountering Christ along the way. Help me to see and experience the holy in all people. Amen.


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Time for Him

Reading: Luke 10: 38-42

Verse 41: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things”.

Today’s story focuses in on two sisters and their choice of how to invest their time. Martha is like most of us in the world. Mary falls into a smaller grouping.

I can relate to Martha. Perhaps you can too. Our culture measures our worth in many ways. One way is by how much we get done. A productive worker is highly valued. A person living an active and busy lifestyle is portrayed as the ideal. Having a lot of things on my to-do list brings a feeling of importance. Getting them done brings a feeling of accomplishment. These two things can lead to working a lot of hours. I can also relate at times to another part of Martha. She feels that all of her work is not being recognized. If it was, Jesus would’ve sent Mary to help. I can fall into that trap too. It is a signal that I need to take a break.

Finally Martha cannot take it any longer and she goes to Jesus. She basically tells him to tell Mary to help her. Jesus responds with, “Martha, Martha”. I can see him shaking his head side to side as he slowly says her name. Maybe he even reached out and took hold of her hands as he looked into her eyes. Jesus continues, saying, “You are worried and upset about many things”. The worries of her to-do list have distracted her from what is really important. Mary has chosen to slow down, to carve out time, to take the opportunity to be present with Jesus.

In his own way, Jesus is encouraging Martha to slow down, to pause for a few minutes. He affirms that Mary has chosen the better way. Jesus will not ask her to give up her quiet time with him for the busyness and worries of the world.

Mary’s choice seems like such an excellent choice. It is a choice that fills our souls and nourishes our spirits. It is a choice that is never regretted, no matter how long the to-do list might seem. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, began each day with an hour of prayer. When asked what he does when his schedule gets very busy, his response was, “I pray for two hours”. He, like Mary, knew the value of investing in Jesus. Deep down, we too know the value. May we each make the choice to slow down, to carve out time, to connect to Jesus regularly and daily.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for this morning’s time with you. It is a wonderful way to begin my day. I cannot even fathom what starting it another way would look or feel like. Thank you for your time. Amen.


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How Long?

Reading: Isaiah 6: 9-13

Verse 10: “Make the hearts of this people caloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes”.

Isaiah hears God’s call upon his life and responds enthusiastically, “Here I am. Send me”! He is eager to serve God. When I think back to my call to ministry, I was not quite so responsive. It took much longer to say “yes” to the call. But God was persistent and step by step He worked me around to saying yes. I think the process that I went through is generally true for most folks. God calls each of us to service; the response is up to us.

Right out of the gate, the eager Isaiah hears that his call will be an uphill battle. God sends Isaiah to tell the people to hear but not understand, to see but not to perceive. The message to repent and turn back to God’s ways will go in one ear and out the other. In verse 10 we read, “Make the hearts of this people caloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes”. Hard hearts, dull ears, closed eyes. Does not sound like a great audience to work with. The eager Isaiah must wonder why he is being called. If his ministry will make no difference, why go?

At times we can feel this way too. We can reach out to people and share the good news with them, but we experience what Isaiah experienced – hard hearts, closed minds. At times we will question why we are sent to such people. At times we too will ask, “For how long, O Lord”? How long should we keep inviting so and so to church? How long should I keep talking about my faith with him or her?

God answers Isaiah with something that reflects God’s timing and the fact that God is in control. God says, “the holy seed will be a stump in the land”. In other words, there is something there, not quite dead as it may appear, but dormant. When God decides the timing is right, God will bring forth a shoot – new life.

When we share our faith with others, through our words or actions, it may feel as if nothing is changing or that we are not making a difference. Yet, even then we are planting seeds. They may seem to lie in infertile ground or on hard soil, but they are seeds nonetheless. We plant faithfully, trusting God to one day bring those seeds to life as faith springs up in that new believer.

The same question can also be asked of us – how long? How long will we serve the Lord? May our answer be the same as Isaiah’s – all the days of our lives.

Prayer: Lord, give me the perseverance to always plant seeds of faith. Show me the words or actions that I need to say or take today to plant a few seeds in someone’s heart. Amen.