pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Daughter

Reading: Mark 5: 24b-34

Verse 28: “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed”.

Photo credit: Elia Pelligrini

A great crowd follows Jesus and Jairus as they make their way to the synagogue leader’s home. They are focused on Jairus’ dying daughter. In the crowd is a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. The nonstop flow of blood has a huge impact on her. She has been living on the fringes of society – always ceremonially unclean. In the excitement of the moment she is able to slip into the crowd. She is among people again. But her focus is singular. Jesus is present. She is drawn to get to him. She thinks, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed”. Is it faith or hope or desperation that draws her to Jesus? Or is it some of all three?

Suddenly the great crowd grinds to a halt. The woman worked her way to Jesus and touches his cloak. She is immediately healed – fully, completely, totally. Jesus knows that someone has drawn power and healing from him. The woman approaches, trembling in fear, falling at his feet. She tells the truth of what has happened, all of it. How does this all-powerful and holy one react to being touched by an outcast, by an unclean woman? He says to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering”. Daughter, welcome home. Daughter, glad to finally meet you. Daughter, peace be with you.

Who do I know that lives on the fringes? Who is there that I don’t even know? Who are these for you? What son or daughter of God feels outside the family of faith? May we seek ways to connect them to the healer. Whether touching them with words, with an act of kindness, with an invitation, may we share our Jesus with them.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me today to share my Jesus with one who feels far from you. Use me however you will to connect them to the healer’s touch. 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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God’s Strength

Reading: Psalm 29: 4-11

Verse 9: “All in his temple cry, ‘Glory'”!

David observes the power of God as he sees it revealed in nature. The “voice” of God breaks the cedars and shakes the desert and strips the forest bare. David’s response is for all the people to declare, “Glory”! For the ancients there was a connection between God and all of life. For the Israelites, they worshipped one God. Yet forever all the cultures and people groups living around them worshiped many gods. Although the Israelites worshiped just God, they did connect disasters and other “bad” things to sinful behavior. In Jesus’ day we see this mindset or way of understanding the world in the way religious leaders viewed the blind or deaf or lepers as “unclean”. They or their parents or grandparents had sinned to cause said illness or malady. Similarly, people today can ask God “why?” questions after natural disasters. Others will blame or be angry at “God” for the flood or fire or storm that adversely affected them or their loved ones.

David sees the same power in the storms but instead of fear or anger he recognizes the power of God in the storm. In the storm he sees a parallel to God’s power. Seeing the power and beauty of God in the storm leads David to worship God for his majesty and strength. I can relate. I love to watch and sometimes even sit out in a thunderstorm. In the building of the storm’s power and then in the wind and rain and thunder and lightning, I sense God’s power and might. This too leads me to feel deeply connected to God and to feel in awe of his presence. As the Psalm closes, David makes his most important point.

In verse eleven David reminds us that “the Lord gives strength to his people”. The same physical power and might that I see in a thunderstorm, that same strength, is given to us in our spiritual life too. God’s strength within us will “bless his people with peace”. As people of faith, we face all sorts of things in life with a strength and peace that the world does not have, that the world does not understand. Thanks be to God for the strength and power and majesty that are ours through the Lord our God. All the glory to our almighty God!

Prayer: Loving God, as awed as I am by the energy and power of nature, I am humbled by the power and strength you give to me in this life. You lead me to places I could not go, you guide me through situations I cannot begin to navigate. Thank you for your presence in my life, O most awesome God. 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.


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Loving the Outsiders

Reading: Matthew 15: 21-28

Verse 22: “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me”.

Today’s passage is one with layers. A simpler version would tell of a woman who came to Jesus and received healing for her daughter. That is the basic story. But our story is layered with cultural prejudice and years of dislike and distrust. The story contains relatively few words between Jesus and the woman and the disciples. It does not get unpacked later in a private moment with the twelve.

By identifying her as a Canaanite woman Matthew is pointing out a barrier. In his world, you were either a Jew or you were not. If you were, you were in. If you were not you were an outsider, a heathen, unclean. Yet she identifies Jesus as “Lord” and as the “Son of David” – she recognizes him as the Messiah, as the Savior of the world. She begs for healing for her daughter. She at least knows that Jesus is a healer. Jesus does not answer her. She persists. What do we make of his silence? Maybe Jesus is testing her sincerity, her level of commitment, her faith. Perhaps he is struggling within with the cultural biases that he grew up with. Or maybe the time is allowed for the disciples’ benefit. The disciples buckle first, asking Jesus to “send her away”. Instead he replies, engaging her while putting her off. Jesus tells her that he came to the Jews only. He is reminding her that she is an outsider. Or… is he reminding the disciples? Or himself? Or us? She begs again.

Jesus adds insult to his next “no”, calling her a “dog”. This is cultural slang for all those below or outside of the pure Jewish religion. It is a degrading and demeaning term. This is not the Jesus we know and love, is it? So we must ask “why?” Is the human inside struggling? Is it to force the disciples to reconsider their own prejudices? They will soon enough be going out into the world of the Gentiles with the good news. Or is it to add emphasis to the healing of the other?

The Canaanite woman sticks to it, noting that “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table”. She again identifies Jesus as the One, as the Lord of all, as the master. She does not want to take Jesus from the ones he is sent to, she just wants a little of him too. Her great faith is applauded by Jesus and the daughter is healed.

This is a powerful and complex story of how Jesus loves even the outsider. How will our love reflect his love today?

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for this story that challenges and forces my love and welcome a bit wider. Continue to work in me and in my heart, removing all that hinders and limits how I love others. Amen.


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Heart Condition

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-20

Verse 18: “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean”.

In response to the Pharisees, Jesus addresses what it is that makes a person ‘unclean’. A person who was unclean was cut off from or had to live outside of community. In terms of faith, it meant separation from God. For the Pharisees being clean or unclean boiled down to whether or not one followed all of the law. For Jesus, being clean or unclean came down to the condition of one’s heart.

At the start of chapter fifteen the religious leaders question Jesus about the disciples eating without following the ceremonial cleansing rituals. They did not properly wash their hands before they ate. The implication was that the disciples were now unclean. That meant seven days outside the temple, seven days outside of community – according to the religious leaders. Responding to their lack of understanding, he says, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean”. Jesus bases the condition of our relationship with God not on what we eat but on what our heart is filled with. The “dull” disciples are sharp enough to know that these words jab at the religious leaders. Their man-made traditions and overemphasis on following the law of Moses has left them with a rule following, box checking religion. But no faith.

Today’s passage calls us to consider the condition of our heart. Does your heart contain some of what Jesus lists in verse nineteen – evil thoughts, false testimony, adultery, slander, theft? Or perhaps others – gossip, greed, lust, jealousy, pride? Or maybe doubt, fear, worry, stress, anxiety? What we have in our hearts will eventually come out of our mouths. Jesus’ point here is more about what is in our heart than about what comes out of our mouth. In the heart is where sin is born or is where we choose to stomp it out. If, instead of filling our heart with evil, what if we fill it with love and compassion, with mercy and grace, with generosity and a vent towards service, with kindness and self-control? Then there is less room for sin and evil.

What is the condition of your heart?

Prayer: Lord God, fill me daily with your word and your will. Send the Holy Spirit to whisper words of life into my heart. Guide me to be filled with your love so that I can be love in the world. Amen.


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Led by Compassion

Reading: Luke 10: 29-37

Verse 36: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers”?

Traditions and stereotypes are great influencers. They are a part of life. Growing up we inherit and learn about the world and people around us from our parents and families. Systems and institutions also influence us as we begin to go to school… These influencers can be good and they can be bad. We can learn to be compassionate and generous, to be honest, to work hard, to be a person of faith. We can learn to be selfish, to take advantage of others, to be prejudiced and biased.

In this familiar parable, the priest and Levite both pass by on the other side of the road. Depending on the influencers that we grew up with, their action can be seen poorly or as acceptable. These two men are also products of the families, groups, and institutions that they grew up in. Most certainly they too felt compassion for the man. Who wouldn’t? But the stronger force was the years and years of training and teaching that said to avoid becoming ceremonially unclean. It would break a law. Life for them was all about their position and living within the guidelines of the law.

I too have been guilty of passing by someone I could have helped. The “law” of ‘don’t be late for work’ has led me to pass by on more than one occasion. The “law” of ‘you have something more important to do, someone else will stop’ has also led me to pass by. Stereotypes and being judgmental have also led me to pass by at times. This parable is so hard because we’ve all walked many times in the shoes of the priest and Levite.

We do not know much about the Samaritan. We do not know if he was rich or poor. We do not know if he was a Godly man or if he worshipped idols. What we do know is that he allowed the compassion that all of us would have felt to become what drove his decisions and actions. He invested both time and money in caring for the one in need. We do not know much about the Samaritan, but we do know that if we were in Jesus’ story, we sure hope we’d stop too. It is a matter of choice. The lawyer knew who the neighbor was. So do we. Jesus encourages the lawyer to “go and do likewise”. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord, you call me to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you. Fill me with compassion for those in need. Lead me to stop and care for those I meet today. Amen.


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Here I Am!

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse 5: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”.

As our passage opens, Isaiah finds himself in God’s presence. God is seated on the throne and seraphs are above God. These 6-winged creatures are calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory”. To add emphasis to this powerful scene, the building shakes and smoke fills the space. I cannot imagine all of what Isaiah felt in those moments – awe, terror, pure joy, amazement? It is a scene of absolute power and might.

There, in that moment, Isaiah realizes how out of place he is. He finds himself in the presence of God and all of heaven. He realizes how unworthy he is to be there. Isaiah utters this confession: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”. But instead of condemning him or removing him instantly, God sends a seraph to Isaiah with a burning coal in the tongs. With the coal, the seraph touches Isaiah’s unclean lips and takes away his guilt and atones for his sin. God redeems Isaiah. God prepares Isaiah for what comes next: hearing God’s call.

At times we experience God’s presence. Sometimes it is in the church – sometimes on a Sunday morning in worship, sometimes on a Tuesday afternoon in the stillness. Sometimes it is in the hospital – maybe with parents who have just brought a new life into the world, maybe with a family as they say goodbye and send a loved one on to their new life with God. We can and do experience God in many ways and in many settings. In some if these moments, we too can feel a little of what Isaiah felt – overwhelmed and in awe at the holy privilege that we are part of. I always feel blessed and am humbled by the experience. Once in a while, I can relate to Isaiah’s feeling of being unworthy to be in God’s holy presence that has settled on that place or situation. Yet God remains present to me as well.

No seraph comes with a hot coal, but the Holy Spirit surely leads and guides, assuring me of what I am a part of. Whether the prompting is to offer a scripture or a prayer or just to be present or maybe to give a hug, as the Spirit leads, I say in my heart as Isaiah said with his lips, “Here I am. Send me!”

When we accept our place in God’s presence and we allow God to work in and through us, the power of the Holy Spirit takes charge. When we find ourselves with an opportunity to be sent, to be in partnership with the Holy Spirit, may we trust fully in God’s call, joyously saying, “Here I am. Send me!”

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart, encourage my mind and spirit today so that I may faithfully respond to each call you give. Amen.


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A Clean Heart

Reading: Mark 7: 14-16 & 21-23

Verses 15-16: “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean'”.

As far back as the beginning, God has looked at humanity differently than we look at ourselves. God chose people like Abel, Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Esther, David, Mary, Peter, Paul… not because they were the most beautiful or the strongest or the most intelligent. He chose them because of the stuff on the inside – the stuff that is hard for us to see. Sometimes we struggle with this idea. Sometimes we cannot look past the outside.

All groups have rules that govern the group, their behavior, who can be a part of the group… The ritual cleansing laws were just one of many law that kept the Jews separate from the peoples around them. Identity was important. As the chosen people, standards had to be kept. When the religious leaders saw Jesus’ disciples – who were all Jews – not following the rules, they questioned Jesus about it.

In our passage today, Jesus returns to God’s practice of being concerned with what is on the inside, not on the outside. Jesus responds to the leaders by saying, “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean'”. This makes perfect sense. But it disrupts the status quo. But it makes sense. Eating with unclean hands does not make one more or less likely to sin. Drinking coffee instead of tea does not increase or decrease one’s ability to resist temptation. In verse 17, Jesus points out that whatever we eat or drink “doesn’t go into the heart but into the stomach”. Temptation and sin reside in the heart.

Jesus goes on to share quite a list of evils that can be found in the heart. When we allow our thoughts to turn to and to dwell on theft or murder or lust or envy or arrogance or pride or… then evil will surely come out, making us ‘unclean’. The battle to remain ‘clean’ is a fight in the heart. It is a battle that we must have help in if we are to remain in a right relationship with our Lord and Savior.

This day, O Lord, give me a clean heart and a right spirit. Purge all within that is impure. May the power of the Holy Spirit be quick to convict when evil thoughts begin to arise. And may I be responsive to the conviction, repenting quickly. May I honor you, O Lord, in all I do and say and think today. Amen.


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Here I Am

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse Eight: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us’? And I said, ‘Here I am. Send me’!”

Isaiah is blessed by his vision of God on the throne. It is an awesome sight to behold. Yet he is also reminded of his own life and that it falls short of the glory of God. He knows he is unclean. As soon as he utters this confession, one of the seraphs takes a coal from the altar. It is brought to Isaiah and the coal is put to his lips. As this is done, the seraph says, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for”. Isaiah is made pure and holy once again in God’s sight.

For Christians today, we have a similar experience. In the house of the Lord, we sense God’s glory as His presence is with us in worship. As we approach the altar, we confess that we too are unclean, living with sin in our lives. Just as the coal is brought to Isaiah, the fruit of the vine and the bread is brought to us. When we take the elements that represent Christ’s atoning sacrifice upon our lips, our guilt is removed and our sins are no more. They have been atoned for by Jesus. Through the sacrament of communion we are each made holy and perfect in God’s sight.

Once Isaiah is made clean, he hears God asking, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us”? in response, Isaiah says, “Here I am. Send me’!”. Isaiah has been blessed and cleansed by God and now he is prepared to go out to serve the Lord as one sent by God. Today we receive the same call. This very day may we each respond as Isaiah did, saying, “Here I am. Send me!”