pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Friend

Reading: John 15: 12-15

Verse 12: “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

As we continue in our passage from John 15 our focus shifts slightly. We look at how our relationship with Jesus informs our relationships with others. Love remains the centerpiece. Understanding yesterday’s call to agape love – that unconditional and often undeserved love – Jesus calls us today to live out that love just as he did. In our opening verse Jesus says, “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”. It is a command not just to love the other as the world does but to love the other as Jesus loves us.

Imagine that the father of a young family living two doors down died unexpectedly. You buy a gift card from a local restaurant, slip it inside a nice sympathy card, and tuck it in their mailbox. That is loving as the world loves. You have chatted with them on your walks so you know them a little bit. You make the kids’ favorite meal and bring it over to the house. You help a shaken mom get the kids fed and you clean up as she gets them ready for bed. You hang around to see what else she needs – prayer, someone to listen, someone to watch the kids while she goes to the funeral home… You show up tomorrow and each next day as long as needed. This is loving as Christ loves. This is laying down one’s life for the other.

When we truly love as Jesus loves us, when we follow his commands, we are living out his agape love. We are not so much serving Jesus as we are being his hands and feet and heart in the world. When we live this way, Jesus calls us “friend” instead of servant. When we learn and internalize all that Jesus has passed along from the Father, we become a true friend of Jesus. It becomes natural to care well for that family two doors down. It becomes our rhythm of life to step into opportunities to share Jesus’ love. Loving like Jesus becomes who and what we are. Day by day may he become more of each of us.

Prayer: Lord of love, thank you for calling me friend. I want to be more, to be just like you – loving one and all without condition, without reserve. Continue to prune and shape me, molding and forming me more and more into your image. Each day, use me as you will. Amen.


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One Flock

Reading: John 10: 11-18

Verse 16: “There shall be one flock and one shepherd”.

Our passage begins by defining Jesus as the good shepherd, the one who loves the sheep, the one who will “lay down his life for the sheep”. John contrasts this dedication to that of the hired hand. For this person, watching the sheep is just a job. And hopefully a temporary one at that. In my youth, this would have been like working in the tobacco fields. It was always hot and muggy. The tar stuck to everything. The dirt and worse stuck to the tar. About a minute into each day’s work one began to long for the end of the day. A hint of rain and the workers were ready to call it a day. In our passage the hired hand runs at the first sign of trouble. Not so with the good shepherd.

I don’t know about you, but I sure like my good shepherd and the flock I’m a part of. Jesus is faithful and true, with me in the highs and lows and everywhere in between. He watches over me, comforts me, guides me, forgives me, loves me. And what a wonderful flock too! The church is welcoming and kind and generous and dedicated – just a wonderful group of followers of Jesus. The good shepherd knows me by name – just like everyone else who gathers together on a Sunday morning. We gather and greet one another, we sing and pray and worship God, the little lambs frolic and play. We leave on Sunday morning feeling ready to live out our faith.

Then the reality of verse sixteen hits me: “There shall be one flock and one shepherd”. Well, God, maybe you are talking about the day when Jesus returns in final glory, when people of “every nation, tribe, people, and language” will stand before the throne (Revelation 7:9). No, Jesus said the kingdom of God is now, it is here on earth. This verse and these thoughts leave me wondering: what more do I need to do to draw others into the flock, to make all people in my little part of the kingdom feel loved and cared for by the good shepherd and by me?

Prayer: Lord God, who in the neighborhood needs to feel your love? Who needs to hear your voice? Help me to open wide the doors and to offer a pasture that draws all people in. May your kingdom be revealed. Amen.


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God of Patience

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-21

Verse 10: “She said to Abraham, ‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son'”.

Several years after Sarah and Abraham took matters into their own hands, preempting God’s plan, God fulfills his promise to them. Ishmael had been born several years ago and he is now a young boy at the time that Isaac is born. In the story that we read today and tomorrow, there are a lot of emotions flying around. As we have observed over the last few months, this isn’t always the best thing. Emotions can be such a two-edged sword. If allowed to guide the way 100%, it can spell disaster. But emotions are also great fuel to drive action and change in a positive direction.

As our story opens today, Sarah realizes that she has created a bad situation. Part of her had to realize that she found herself where she did because she chose to manipulate the situation instead of allowing God to be in control. This is certainly a familiar scenario for many of us. It is for me. We decide God is taking too long and we decide to take charge and we plunge forward, thinking we can fix or remedy or correct a situation. Often we end up where Sarah does – in a far worse position. To make matters worse, instead of turning to God this time, she again plunges ahead, telling Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son”. But oh how God is patient. Ishmael’s father, Abraham, is greatly distressed by this directive. He has grown to love Ishmael over these years. He has been and still is his son.

Perhaps you too have done what Sarah does. Realizing that you have gone far astray of God’s plan, instead of now turning to God, you try to re-correct what you failed at in attempt #1. God remains patient with Sarah just as he does with us. God continues to work with the situation, telling Abraham that all will be just fine with Ishmael. Content in God’s words, Abraham does send Hagar and Ishmael away.

The big picture is that God will watch over us as well. God will work in and through our messes and God will be with us when we have to step out into the wilderness. It is all part of our story as well. More on that tomorrow!

Prayer: God of patience, I marvel at how you work good out of situation after situation. I so often wander off on my own but you always work me back around to your will and your ways. Thank you for your faithfulness. Amen.


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All Good

Reading: Genesis 1:1 to 2:4a

Verse 25: “And God saw that it was good”.

Today we read the story of creation. It is a summary of how our world was created. Within the account there is a beauty and an order. These two enduring characteristics of God leap out of his creative acts. One thing at a time is created – night and day; sky, land, and seas; vegetation and trees; sun, moon, and stars; sea and air creatures; and, land creatures. Once all the groundwork is created, God makes human beings in his own image. Their task, our task, is to watch over and care for what God has made.

As God gets into the third day on, the creation explodes. On day three, for example, all the vegetation and trees are created, each “according to its kind”. This is a vast amount of life forms. It speaks of the power and might of God. The same is true when we think of the different species of the sea and air creatures and of all the land creatures – not to mention the unthinkable number of stars and planets and moons in the universe. The sheer greatness of God is revealed in all of creation. It is a greatness that is hard to even begin to wrap our minds around. And, yes, it was all good! Let us praise the Lord our God for all of the created world.

Prayer: Father of all, thank you for the diversity and beauty of your creation. Each and every thing has your fingerprints upon them. Because of that, all things have sacred worth. Thank you for that reminder today, O God. Amen.


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God’s Hands

Reading: Psalm 121

Verse 2: “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”.

Psalm 121 is one of my favorites. It is a Psalm that reminds me both of God’s grandeur and of God’s intimate care for each of us. I enjoy being out in nature. One of my favorite places to be out in nature is a church camp in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Lookout Point is my go-to place there in camp. From the point I can look out over the hills and pine forests to see the rolling plains and even the Badlands on a clear day. About 100 feet below the point a creek churns with life and energy. Sitting there in the beauty of God’s creation, I feel close to God.

Verse two is a great reminder for me: “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”. It is a verse that brings assurance and comfort as I am reminded of how close God is to each of us. God is our helper. One could use other terms: provider, giver, father. There is a deep love that God has for you and for me, his children. That feeling of being loved continues in verses three and four. Here the psalmist reminds us that “God will not let your foot slip” and that God watches over us as we sleep. Perhaps a childhood bedtime prayer comes to mind for you too! As a loving God, he is our protector, our shield, our defender, our guardian.

What beautiful images of our God. May we rejoice today in the God who is both the hands that formed all of creation and the God who holds us each in those same hands. May our lives proclaim God’s glory!

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the many ways you touch my life. Thank you for the beautiful and magnificent world to live in. Thank you for the personal and intimate relationship that I have with you. You are a good and great and loving God. All praise and honor to you! Amen.


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God’s Voice

Reading: Habakkuk 1:1-4 and 2:1-4

Verse 2:1 – “I will stand at my watch… I will look to see what he will say to me”.

Habakkuk is a prophet that wrestles with God. The book and our passage opens up with Habakkuk asking God, “How long, O Lord…”? It is a question that people have asked almost since the dawn of time. It is a question that we each have probably asked many times as well. Habakkuk sees injustice and destruction and violence and he wonders why God tolerates such things. What Habakkuk sees sounds familiar in our day and age as well. People continue to ask God how such things are tolerated if God is indeed good and loving. If left unresolved these questions can lead to doubt and even mistrust of God.

Habakkuk engages God with the how long and why questions. But Habakkuk does one more very important thing – he sticks to it. He prays to God and then awaits an answer. In 2:1 we read, “I will stand at my watch… I will look to see what he will say to me”. He throws out the questions and then waits for God’s answers. It is neither a passive waiting nor one given up on quickly. No, Habakkuk persists in his waiting. It is the only sincere and faithful response when one poses a big question to God. Habakkuk’s desire to see the world become a better place fuels his willingness to wait upon God. It is a serious commitment to a serious faith.

God does respond. Habakkuk is instructed to “write down the revelation”. God reveals that yes there is a plan and an appointed time for that plan to occur. God encourages Habakkuk to “wait for it”. Our passage ends with “the righteous will live by his faith”. It is a good reminder.

As we turn to God with our big questions and deep desires, may we remember both Habakkuk’s persistence and God’s faithfulness. May we too learn to wait and to listen well for God’s voice.

Prayer: Lord God, bring me some persistence and some patience. Too often I lift a prayer and then move right on to the next thing. Strengthen me to remain in the moment, to wait upon your voice. May it be so. Amen.


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A Radical Change

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 27-34

Verse 27: “The days are coming when I will replant the house of Israel and the house of Judah”.

Change is on the horizon! Last week, in Jeremiah 29, God encouraged the people to build and to marry, to redeem their situation in Babylon, to shine light and love into this sinful place. In today’s reading we begin to hear God’s promise to restore the chosen people. In the opening verse we read, “The days are coming when I will replant the house of Israel and the house of Judah”. God will replant what was uprooted. God will rebuild what was torn down. God promises to “watch over them to build and to plant”. The exiles must have received these words from Jeremiah with great hope and excitement.

Along with the restoration and relocation back to the Promised Land, there is also a change coming in the people’s relationship with God. No longer will a parent’s (or grandparent’s or great grandparent’s) sin affect the children (or children’s children…). In verse 30 we read, “Instead, everyone will die for his own sin”. In the day to day life, death means separation from God. When on is living in sin or with sin in their heart, the relationship with God is broken. Through the new covenant that God is bringing through Jesus Christ, sins will be forgiven. Through personal confession and repentance our sins will be washed away. In the eternal sense, if one chooses to live in sin and refuses to turn back to God, death refers to an eternity in hell.

Through Jeremiah, God is forshadowing a pretty radical change in Jewish thinking and theology. The idea that disease and illness and blindness and… are the result of sin somewhere in the family tree is deeply rooted in their faith. Jesus will challenge this line of thought. Change will be hard. Some will refuse to accept this shift. Jesus offers insight through his actions. He will touch the leper and the deaf, the mute and the crippled, the outcast and the sinner. His touch indicates love and acceptance, not fear and exclusion. Change is indeed on the horizon!

Prayer: God, thank you for your continuing evolution of our relationship with you. Through Jesus you became more personal, more intimate, more fully known. With the Holy Spirit you moved further into our hearts. Continue to draw me more and more into who and what you are! Amen.


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Watch Out

Reading: Mark 12: 38-40

Verse 38: “Watch out for the teachers of the law…”

Jesus is teaching a large crowd in the temple when He shares some observations about the religious leaders – the teachers of the law. This passage is one of several we find in the Gospels where Jesus addresses the appearance of these men and then contrasts it with what is actually inside of their hearts. In reality, this is an issue we all face.

The teachers love their positions and the cultural respect that comes with the title. The teachers of the law were the top of the social ladder. All young boys dreamed of becoming rabbis when they grew up. Only the best and the brightest would be selected for advanced study and from there only a portion would become a rabbi. One can work so hard to get ‘there’ that sometimes we forget why we were aiming at that goal.

Jesus observes that the teachers wear long robes to be noticed. They like people to see them and to call out to them. Today there are lots of people who dress a certain way to draw attention to themselves. The teachers like the important seats – again so that they will be noticed. Some today like to be front and center to be seen. The teachers “devour widow’s houses”, using their power and authority to take advantage of the elderly and the powerless. Today folks in power prey on the weak and defenseless, using their authority to manipulate and sometimes even to abuse.

While today’s passage speaks most directly to those of us who are pastors and priests, it applies to all people who have any degree of power or authority. When we allow the title or the recognition to be more important than loving and serving others, then we have lost sight of the #1 command to love God and neighbor. We must all remind ourselves over and over that this is our call. When temptation arises to use our power or authority for personal gain, we must repent of our sin immediately. In the battle with pride and ego and self, may we ever strive to remember that all we have and are is a gift and blessing from God Almighty. Ever and always, may all of our thoughts, words, and actions be pleasing in God’s sight.

Lord, each day may I seek to love mercy, to act justly, and to walk humbly with you, my Savior and King. Amen.


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Prayer for Disciples

Reading: John 17: 6-19

Verse Fifteen: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one”.

Today’s passage is Jesus’ prayer for His disciples after He finally ascends to the Father into heaven. He has walked through the past three years with them, building up both their faith and also a personal relationship with each of them. Along the way He has prepared them for the day when He is no longer present. He has modeled what it is to be a humble servant and to love God with all one’s being. Jesus has sent them out on training missions to get a taste of what ministry without Jesus present.

In these things, Jesus reminds me of parenthood. As we raise our children, we model the behaviors, actions, and choices that we want them to make. We teach our children how to love God and others, how to be willing to give of oneself for the other. We allow them to swim a little on their own, celebrating when they succeed and picking them up when they fail. At some point it becomes time for them to be out on their own and we too pray over and for the next stage in their journey. And we keep praying for our children, just as Jesus does today as He intercedes for us all.

Jesus prays for His disciples as their work continues. Jesus realizes that they now belong to God and not to the world, just as He does. But there is still work to do, so Jesus prays, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one”. He knows they must remain in the world to accomplish the plans that God has for them and His new church. Yet Jesus also knows the challenges that lie ahead so He prays for God to protect them. Jesus knows that just as Satan tempted Him in the wilderness with the things of the world, so too will Satan try and lead the disciples away from the truth.

This is why Jesus closes the prayer by asking God to sanctify them – to make them holy. Jesus knows that if the disciples live a holy life then it will protect them against the slings of the evil one. Jesus knows holiness is rooted in the truths found in the Bible, so He asks God to sanctify them by the truth. He is asking God to put the Word in them. It is by the truth found in the Word that they are made holy. By this same Word we are made holy. This day may we be disciples grounded in the Word, loving God and others with all we are.


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Connecting

Reading: Psalm 19: 1-6

Verse One: “The heavens declare the glory of the Lord; the skies proclaim the work of His hands”.

The psalmist, who we believe to be King David, really connects to God when he takes in the natural world. In today’s verses, the Psalm concentrates on the heavens – the sun, moon, and stars. To David, observing creation itself allows one to connect to God and to hear God’s voice. While one can certainly sense God’s power and presence when one gazes up at the night sky, God’s presence also speaks in the smallest elements of creation as well.

God calls out loudly to me at the birth of a child. In those first moments as a newborn wraps it’s tiny hand around your finger, one cannot but feel God’s creative power and His sacred presence. The new little life shouts that God is there. One can also feel God’s hand at work in the created world in other ways. At times, the gentle rain has connected me deeply to God’s care for us and our earth.

This past week I was blessed with a reminder of how slowing down and being present can allow God to bless us. As I sat and talked with a family in preparation for a memorial service, one of the sons shared how his Mom just loved to sit for hours, in the corner chair, watching God’s world outside. She loved watching and listening to the birds, especially the golden finches. She loved looking at the beautiful flowers and plants and watching the breeze gently sway the trees. I could imagine her just sitting there, soaking in God’s handiwork, feeling close to her creator, to her Lord and Savior.

As I reflected on this I am reminded of my need to intentionally slow down and to connect to God through His sacred created world. It is a need we all share. So take a little time today, go for a walk or sit in the chair and look outside. Grab a cup of tea or a little snack and spend some time with God’s created world. Allow the sites and sounds and smells to connect you with God and to speak to you today.