pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The True Kingdom

Reading: John 10: 16-18

Verse 17: “The reason my father loves me is that I lay down my life”.

We turn to John 10 for a second day in a row. Yesterday we were drawn to consider the present reality of God’s kingdom here on earth and to consider how we are each working to include others in said kingdom. Today we focus in on the how and the who of our task to draw others into the kingdom of God.

For Jesus, the how was laying down his life. Jesus did this literally, going to the cross to defeat the power of sin and then to and out of the grave to defeat the power of death. This obedient, sacrificial action reflects both Jesus’ love for God and for us. In turn, it draws God’s love and our love too. While we may not go as far as Jesus did with our obedient and sacrificial actions, we can certainly expect to be called upon to pay a cost as we seek to share the love of God with others. It may be financial, physical, emotional, relational. The ‘how’ will almost always involve giving something for or to the other. While this is often difficult, the real ‘who’ is harder.

When we consider Jesus’ ‘who’, is general they were Jews. The people Jesus spoke with and ministered to were often much like Jesus himself. This too is our general mission field – those we work with, associate with, maybe go to school with. Jesus also welcomed and engaged those from the edges and fringes – those society and formal religion rejected or avoided. Herein lies our real challenge. We like the neat and ordered, the understandable and routine. Our churches like these things too. But for the kingdom of God to be fully revealed, it must reflect our actual communities, in all of their beautiful diversity. To realize this we must be willing to engage and welcome those outside of our normal circles. We must be willing to be uncomfortable and unsure of the places and people we seek to connect with – only in these thin spaces will we really rely on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. Only then will the margins and fringes be wiped away by the love of God, opening our community of faith to reflect the true kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: Loving God, it’s easy to call upon or engage those like me, those inside the church. It is much harder to engage and love those who are not like me. Give me a willing spirit and a deeper trust in you. Go with me Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Looking Up

Reading: Numbers 21: 4-9

Verse 7: “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us”.

Photo credit: Carolina Jacomin

As the Israelites near the end of their journey in the wilderness they are tired, impatient, and irritable. Three weeks into Lent and perhaps a few of us grow tired of the themes of reflection and introspection. In the bigger picture, today the source of our weariness and impatience and irritability is the pandemic. As the Israelites grumble against God and Moses, they are expressing these emotions. They long to go back to what was. Tired of their current situation, they let go of their frustration via complaint. This is the fifth complaint story during their wilderness journey. God has had enough. God sends venemous snakes among the Israelites and many die. Consequences.

Like Jesus’ subversive actions in the temple, this response of God makes us feel a little uncomfortable. Our reality, though, is that we have been here too. We have had the tables turned over a time or two or… We have been bitten by our poorly spoken words or via our sinful actions. We too have experienced how the pain drives us to confession and repentance, to turning back toward God. As we look up to the Lord, just like the Israelites did, we find reconciliation and restoration and forgiveness. God is faithful and moves quickly to bring us back into right relationship.

Lent is a wilderness experience, a season of introspection and reflection. In that spirit, let us consider times when our actions have harmed or caused pain for others. Perhaps we are in the midst of such a time. What words spoken have caused harm? What actions have damaged relationships? What words left unspoken or actions left undone have allowed harm or pain to continue? To wrestle with these questions first requires a humble and contrite spirit. On Ash Wednesday we were reminded that this is the posture of Lent – a humble and contrite spirit. It is what leads to a new heart within us and to the place of healing that God so graciously offers.

The Israelites looked up to the reminder that God is in control, to the serpent fashioned by Moses. Today, we lift our eyes to our source of healing and hope, to the one who offers mercy and grace, restoration and wholeness – Jesus Christ. On this Lenten journey, may the God of love continue to sustain you and to give life, even in the wilderness.

Prayer: Lord of life, you are so gracious and merciful and kind. Your love is overwhelming, your patience without end. Just as you continued to walk with the Israelites, walk with me day by day. Reveal to me the ways that I have caused and do cause harm so that I can repent and become more like your son, the Christ. Amen.


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Seeing Jesus

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-46

Verse 45: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”.

Today we again wrestle with this teaching. In the agriculturally based world of Jesus’ day, all would understand the need to separate out one flock or herd from another. There were times when you just did that. This practice continues today everywhere farming or ranching is done. For Jesus’ audience the idea of separating the sheep from the goats would not raise an eyebrow. The “why” is what makes his audience pause. It is what makes us take a pause. This makes us uncomfortable. It makes us squirm. It gives us an uneasy feeling in our soul. These things are part of following Jesus.

One of the points of this teaching is that we are to care for our brothers and sisters. In this sense it mirrors the second great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is a familiar command to most every Christian. We do not always succeed, but we all understand that loving all of our neighbors is part of the gig. Today, though, Jesus goes deeper. In verse 45 he says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”. When we have failed to love those who are hungry, thirsty, lonely – the least – we have done so because we failed to see Jesus in them. How could Jesus Christ be in the addict? In the homeless? In the murderer? He is there because each of these is just like us – created in the image of God, born with a spark of the divine within us. Jesus may not be readily evident in such people. But, hey, once in a while, folks have a hard time seeing Jesus in you and in me. Yet Jesus is still there. We are all and ever will be a child of God. If we all saw Jesus in every single other person, we would be much better at feeding, clothing, and including the least of these. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, fill my heart so with love that it colors all I see. Give me eyes that see you in others first, and only then, to see the hunger or other needs. The hunger… are just things. The person is your son or daughter, Christ’s brother or sister, my brother or sister. Help me to live this truth out more fully. Amen.


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Patient Trust

Reading: Matthew 13: 24-30

Verse 29: “…while you are pulling the weeds you may root up the wheat with them”.

I tend to be a fixer. When problems or issues arise I want to fix them. In general, most of us get uncomfortable when things are not right. In those cases our leaning is to make things right then and there. Many of us are like the servants in today’s parable.

The parable begins with the planting of wheat in the field. During the night an enemy sows weeds in the same field. Over time both seeds sprout and begin to grow. The landowner’s servants see both wheat and weeds in the field and ask the landowner what happened. They ask him, “Didn’t you sow good seeds?” This too is one of my tendencies. When things go poorly or not well I too tend to question, to doubt, to blame. But the owner replies, “An enemy did this”. It was something out of his control. He recognizes that at times people and other forces outside of our control will affect and effect us. Other people can also make bad decisions, nature strikes, some people are greedy and immoral.

Like the servants, our first reaction is usually to do react, to do something. But the owner practices patience. He tells the servants “no”. He wants them to wait because “…while you are pulling the weeds you may root up the wheat with them”. He correctly understands that both root systems might be damaged by pulling the weeds now. Instead he instructs them to wait for the harvest. This advice is good for us as well. When we practice patience and trust God to work things out in his time, things usually work out. In faith may we take our prayers to the Lord, trusting in and waiting on his answer.

Prayer: Lord God, when I want to jump in and solve or fix, may your Holy Spirit remind me to breathe, to be patient, to turn first to you for discernment and guidance. In trust may I relinquish all worry and fear and doubt and angst. Help me to trust in you alone. Amen.


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The Path

Reading: Matthew 13: 1-9 and 18-23

Verses 3 and 4: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed…”

Today’s parable is one of my favorites. The parable of the sower is one of my favorites because of the underlying message and directive. On a surface, practical level, it is the story of a farmer who probably wasn’t very successful – at least be farming standards. No farmer worth his weight in seeds would plant seeds in shallow soil or amongst rocks, nevermind on the path. But this is not really a story about how to be a good farmer.

On the figurative level the parable is about the types of souls who hear the message of faith. On this level we all know people with hard hearts, people who “try out” faith but soon return to life as normal, and people who really want to be faithful followers but struggle with the cares and lures of the world. We also know people who live and share a solid faith, leading others to become believers. Some of us have even been the farmer at times, trying to share our faith with others. When doing so we have encountered all of these types of soil. In this sense, the parable is a good summary of the challenges of evangelism and of the reality of the difficulty of a faithful walk with Jesus Christ. For these reasons it is a good parable – lots of application and understanding.

I love the parable, though, for what is implied, especially in the opening lines: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed…” For me, the key word is “scatter”. To me there is a willy-nilly wildness to this method of planting seeds of faith that God prefers. To me, this speaks of the vastness and inclusiveness of God’s love. The parable’s underlying message and directive are to share God’s love and the good news of Jesus Christ with everyone. Hardest of hard hearts all the way to the most eager recipient you’ve ever met. And everyone in between.

This is how Jesus operated. He ministered to the adulterer and to the Pharisee, to the tax collector and to the leper, to the demon-possessed and to the children, to the widow and to the masses… You name the type of soul, Jesus met them where they were at, entered into relationship with them, walked with them, ministered to them. This too is our mission. No, it is not easy. The road is hard and will often place us in uncomfortable situations and places. Such is the path of following Jesus, working to make disciples of all people and nations. May we walk the path well.

Prayer: Lord God, I do love this story but it is also very challenging. It pushes me, it calls me to new people and to new places. Go with me as I seek to follow your Son. Amen.


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Put to the Test

Reading: Genesis 22: 1-14

Verse 5: “We will worship and then we will come back to you”.

In yesterday’s reading, we focused on Abraham’s trust and obedience. There is also a second person who demonstrates a great deal of trust and obedience. Isaac accompanies his father Abraham and plays his role as son, obedient to the father. In other ways we see Isaac as an example of the kind of faith and trust that Jesus modeled on his way to death. Only then, the son was not spared.

Throughout the story in Genesis 22, Isaac does the will of his father. He carries the wood up the mountain to the place of sacrifice. He does not struggle when he is bound up. He is quiet and at peace with the role that he is playing. Each of these things are reminiscent of Jesus’ trip to the cross on Calvary.

As followers of Jesus we are often asked to step into places or to do things for Jesus that may be uncomfortable or may involve some risk. To step outside of our comfort zone, to engage with someone who is not just like us, to give generously when we are led to be selfless – these are our moments when faith is put to the test. Do we, like Isaac, completely trust the father? And are we as willing to accept and play our role to fulfill the will of God? May we, like Isaac and many other faithful followers, turn towards the Lord in trust and obedience, becoming willing servants of our God most high.

Prayer: Father God, help me to trust in you – to follow your lead and to go willingly and obediently, even into a place or situation where I am unsure or am uncomfortable. Guide me to step forward in faith as my act of worship. Amen.


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Put to the Test

Reading: Genesis 22: 1-14

Verse 5: “We will worship and then we will come back to you”.

In yesterday’s reading, we focused on Abraham’s trust and obedience. There is also a second person who demonstrates a great deal of trust and obedience. Isaac accompanies his father Abraham and plays his role as son, obedient to the father. In other ways we see Isaac as an example of the kind of faith and trust that Jesus modeled on his way to death. Only then, the son was not spared.

Throughout the story in Genesis 22, Isaac does the will of his father. He carries the wood up the mountain to the place of sacrifice. He does not struggle when he is bound up. He is quiet and at peace with the role that he is playing. Each of these things are reminiscent of Jesus’ trip to the cross on Calvary.

As followers of Jesus we are often asked to step into places or to do things for Jesus that may be uncomfortable or may involve some risk. To step outside of our comfort zone, to engage with someone who is not just like us, to give generously when we are led to be selfless – these are our moments when faith is put to the test. Do we, like Isaac, completely trust the father? And are we as willing to accept and play our role to fulfill the will of God? May we, like Isaac and many other faithful followers, turn towards the Lord in trust and obedience, becoming willing servants of our God most high.

Prayer: Father God, help me to trust in you – to follow your lead and to go willingly and obediently, even into a place or situation where I am unsure or am uncomfortable. Guide me to step forward in faith as my act of worship. Amen.


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Natural Tendency

Reading: 2 Samuel 11: 1-5

Verse One: “But David remained in Jerusalem”.

Today’s passage is the beginning of a very familiar story. Simply saying the name “Bathsheba” recalls the whole story. It is a story about power and satisfying the desires of the flesh. Power and lust – two things that many of us struggle with. On that level this story is uncomfortable. But we do not willingly go there, to the uncomfortable place.

In verse one Joab and the whole army head off into battle. This was the norm for the springtime. It was the time for heading off to war. “But David remained in Jerusalem”. Here is where our story really begins. Here is where it goes astray. Kings always lead the troops out in battle. That is just one of their roles as king. They lead. “But David remained in Jerusalem”.

When we consider this decision, we do not ordinarily look at it as a sin. Choosing to stay home instead of going off to war is a decision we could easily rationalize or “what if…” and move on to the rest of the story. Yet let us not go there. Let us stay with this decision. The choice to stay home indicates something askew in David. It is a way to say that he is larger than the average guy. He does not have to do what kings traditionally do. He can break the mold. He can do his own thing. He is in charge.

Here is where I connect to the story. Here is where most of us enter the story. Yes, most of us struggle with the desire for power and with lusting after the things of this world. But the decision to do his own thing is what got David in trouble. If we are honest – and this is where it gets uncomfortable – it is what causes us to sin most often too. Our natural tendency is to want to be in control, to make our own decisions, to be in charge. Here is the danger though: there is only room for one on the throne of my heart. And if it is me, it is not God. This is the danger. It is what caught David. It is what catches me.

Lord God, strengthen my faith so that I can become weak, fully yielding control of my life to you. Come, be Lord of my life. Amen.


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Present

Reading: Psalm 139: 13-18

Verse Eighteen: “When I awake, I am still with you”.

Each of us are unique creations of God’s mighty hand. We are all “fearfully and wonderfully made”. Each of our days are ordained or blessed by God. Sounds pretty wonderful, doesn’t it?!

The Psalm gives us a feeling of being intimately known by God. On our good days this does feel like a blessing. To know and to feel like God is present is reassuring and comforting. But on our days when we wrestle with the things of this world and when we sin, that presence can feel a little uncomfortable. When we stumble because our flesh is weak, it is disconcerting to know that God is present for those moments too. Yes, God is right there then too.

And then there are those times when life happens – when there is a cancer diagnosis or when someone dear passes or when our job suddenly comes to and end or… We are not the cause and we are not caught up in sin or evil, but these days come too. And in the midst of all this, God too remains present. Sometimes God even enlists helpers. Friends drop by with a meal or just to visit. The church seems to become a little closer too as people check in on you. Phone calls and texts and cards arrive from folks you forgot you knew. God’s love and care comes in many ways. The Holy Spirit even joins in, reminding us of those passages that we need to hear again. We think, along with the psalmist, “How prescious to me are your thoughts, O God”!

In our days of faithful obedience, in our days of rebellion, and in our days of trial and suffering, our one constant is God’s presence. God brings us hope and strength and reassurance and comfort and … God has been present since we were knit together and God will ever be present to us – in this life and in the life to come. Each and every day we can offer up this praise: “When I awake, I am still with you”. Thanks be to God for always being present! Amen.


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Covenant Love and Grace

Reading: Genesis 17: 1-7 and 15-16

Verse 7: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant… to be your God and the God of your descendants after you”.

Our God is the God of covenants. A covenant establishes a relationship between two parties. In today’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah, God establishes the covenant to be our God. As the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, we are certainly included in this covenant. Just as it was with each of us as the Holy Spirit wooed us into a relationship with God, so too did God take the initiative to start a covenant relationship with Abraham and Sarah. Abraham had trusted and obeyed God and had lived a righteous life. God, in turn, chose to bless Abraham and Sarah (and us) with His covenant promise.

Although a covenant is an “I’ll love you no matter what” promise, we do still like our rules and ways to measure our relationships. We like to know what we have to do, to know how we are doing, to know how we compare to others… But our covenant relationship with God is not about checking off boxes or measuring up to some standard. It is all about God’s grace. Grace is the “no matter what” part of our relationship with God. God loves us no matter what we do or do not do, no matter what we say or do not say, no matter how we act or do not act. Grace looks past all of this and says “I love you and will always be your God”.

God invites each of us into this relationship based upon love and grace no matter what. At times, this is uncomfortable and a bit awkward. It is unsettling. As a child and then later as a husband, I’ve had a time or two or more than I can count when I’ve felt a similar love and grace when I did not deserve it. These experiences with unconditional love and forgiveness give us an idea of God’s covenant love and grace. The idea of this much love is a little frightening or even intimidating. But more than that, it is inviting. Over and over and over God invites us to get back up and to walk once again in His grace and love. He invites us to trust in His love and grace, to give up our own need for control, and to surrender fully so that we can walk where He leads. Make me willing today and each day, O Lord.