pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Accompanied by Action

Reading: James 2: 12-17

Verse 14: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?”

Photo credit: Jake Thacker

Turning to James 2 again today we see a practical lesson on what it means to love your neighbor. There are many ways that we can do this. We can give rides to those no longer able to drive. We can provide meals to a family during a difficult time. We can visit someone who is homebound. Even phone calls provide a point of connection when living in a pandemic. We can care for a neighbor’s pet or garden while they are away. We can be a listening ear or a praying partner with one in need. All of these ways to love our neighbor involve action. In verse fourteen today we read James’ questions: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” For James, we live out our faith well if we are following Jesus’ example. If not, he questions if our faith is really there, if it can really save us.

James follows up and answers the first question with a real life example. If we were to meet one in need of food and clothes and all we did was to wish them well or to pray for them, then “what good is it?” While they might appreciate the kind thoughts or the prayers, in a real sense, what have we done? It would be like the Good Samaritan walking by the man left for dead and calling out, “Hope you feel better soon!” For Jesus that would fall far short of the example he set and of the life he calls us to. To be a disciple calls us to practical, day to day action. Living well and caring for others is the outgrowth of our faith. If not, is our faith really there? James puts it this way: “Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Our faith should be vibrant and alive, clearly evident in our lives. Our brothers and sisters in Christ and the strangers we meet should all recognize the Spirit residing in and moving through us, out into the lives of those we cross paths with each day. May our words and our hands and feet ever share our faith with those we meet.

Prayer: Lord, when the opportunity comes, may I not pass it by. And if I do, by the power of the Holy Spirit, stop me in my tracks and bring me back around for another go. Make me a willing servant. Amen.


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Sabbath

Reading: John 6: 14-15

Verse 15: “Jesus… withdrew again to a mountain by himself”.

Photo credit: David Marcu

In today’s short passage – two verses – we see the world causing Jesus to withdraw. After feeding the 5,000 the people realize the power of Jesus and some are thinking of trying to make him king. Jesus’ power is not for political/military purposes. So Jesus distances himself from the crowd to diffuse the situation. He creates some time of Sabbath – holy and sacred time to connect to God, to find renewal and rest.

It is no coincidence that I read these verses today. Tomorrow I begin a week long retreat that focuses on Sabbath and on caring well for the whole self – physical, spiritual, emotional, financial, and relational. The conference that I am in offers the retreat to pastors once every eight years. My cohort group has been meeting once a month via Zoom to learn more about Sabbath and to get to know one another a little before we spend a week together at a local monestary.

I, probably like many of you, am a bit driven and performance oriented. I don’t sit still well. It is the way of our culture, of our world. Today’s passage reminds us that at times we must withdraw or unplug from the things of this world in order to recenter ourselves on the things of God. Jesus carved out some time to draw close to God, to be renewed by God’s love. May we each do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, on the edge of these days set apart I so look forward to time alone with you and to learning more about caring well for my whole self. I am so grateful for this opportunity. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Pray, Speak, Stand

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11: 1-5

Verse 2: “One evening David got up… walked around on the roof… saw a woman bathing”.

Photo credit: Joshua Oluwagbemiga

Today we enter one of the uglier stories in the Bible. The story begins with a bad decision and spirals down from there. David decides to stay home when the army goes off to war instead of leading them into battle. But a king can do what a king wants to do. Then one night he can’t sleep. In verse two we read, “One evening David got up… walked around on the roof… saw a woman bathing”. His eyes and heart wander. He spies a very beautiful woman bathing. Lust is born. As the story unfolds one of his servants asks, “Isn’t that Bathsheba… Uriah’s wife”? Hint, hint. But a king can do what a king wants to do. David sends for her and sleeps with her. Forced himself upon her is the much, much more likely reality. David is finished with her and sends her back home. It is an ugly story that ends with an unexpected pregnancy.

On Sunday in church we talked about breaking down walls and about standing with the abused, oppressed, taken advantage of… We would have loved to have been there and to have stood up for Bathsheba. We think we would have stood and shouted, “No more of this ‘But a king can do what a king wants to do’ stuff”! Yet today people with power continue to force their way, to coerce others, to play by their own set of rules. Naming realities helps to break down walls. Sex trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation are still alive and well. One of the top sex trafficking events in the US will take place just up the road in a couple of weeks. I believe the Sturgis Rally is second only to the Super Bowl. Most of us are appalled by and disgusted by the story of David and Bathsheba. Are we equally so when we recognize that sex trafficking and pornography are huge business in our nation?

Just as those in David’s palace should have stood up for and then cared for Bathsheba, so too must we pray for and speak for and stand with those who are exploited and used by others. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, we peak today at the ugliness of a person in power forcing his way. Hold our eyes and hearts for a few moments; help us to connect to Bathsheba. Then turn our eyes and hearts to the ugly realities of today. Money and power and lust still lead to ugliness today. Guide us all to do what we can – some to pray, some to speak, some to stand with the victims. May your love bring healing to the brokenness of our world and lives. Amen.


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Your Plenty

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 8: 7-15

Verse 14: “Your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need”.

Photo credit: Dominik Lange

In chapter eight Paul begins by sharing about the example set by the churches in Macedonia. Even though they are in a time of trial they gave “as much as they were able”. And they gave with joy. With this example in mind, Paul turns to the commitment made by the Corinthian church. Paul first lifts up the ways that the church excels: faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness, love. Then he challenges them to also excel in giving. In verse ten Paul reminds them that they were the first to desire to give to support their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul’s challenge now is to “finish the work” – to make good on their original desire.

The idea of giving to a church or to an organization like the Red Cross or to a local mission or shelter is still common among many Christians. Yet our culture, as did the culture around the Corinthian church, teaches about rugged individualism and about striving for success. From an early age we are taught to achieve and to excel and to accumulate. So for some, Paul’s appeal towards “equality” among the churches runs counter to our cultural norms. The reality is that many see “ours” as “mine” and not “ours” as given by God to be stewarded by all of us.

Paul appeals to the church to “share the load”, to help a fellow church in its time of need. In verse fourteen he puts it this way: “Your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need”. Give when you can and trust that others will care for you in your times of need. Paul’s appeal in this case is financial. One can also give of one’s time or talents or presence or service. In whatever ways we can, may we each care well for one another, being generous first with our love and then with whatever else we have to offer.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the giver of all good things. You have blessed me abundantly. Open my heart to the ways I can bless others. Amen.


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The Greatest Joys

Reading: 1st John 5: 1-5

Verse 2: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands”.

We continue today with the same author and the same themes from our past days in John 15: loving well and obeying God’s commands. There continues to be a direct connection here. When we love someone we try to do things that please them. When we love someone we want them to be happy and well cared for. These concerns often extend to those who are loved by the focus of our love. This is the case with God’s creation and family. Since we cannot really care for God himself, we instead focus on loving and caring well for all of God’s creation.

John sums up this idea in verse two. Here we read, “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands”. When our love of God leads us to follow his commands, then we love his children. We express God’s love in many ways: caring for those in need, helping others grow in faith, being present in times of pain or sorrow, supporting the work of God through the giving of our time, talents, prayers, and resources. These expressions of love are reflections or extensions of the love of God that we ourselves have experienced. This is why they are not burdensome. These actions are a joyful and grateful way to thank God for loving us so well. In this way the love of God is cast wide, out into the world. Being loved and loving well are two of the greatest joys in life. May we enjoy both today!

Prayer: God of all creation, you love me just like you love all of your other children and all that you have made. It is a wonderful, beautiful, complete love. As it fills me may I pour it out into the world. Amen.


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Connected

Reading: Psalm 50: 1-2

Verse 1: “The mighty one, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Psalm 50 opens with the image of God, mighty in power, calling out to all the earth. God “speaks and summons” from east to west. To all of the earth – mankind, plants, animals, all of creation – God calls out. Can you see the trees straightening up ever so slightly? Can you notice the bluejay quieting its song for just a moment? Can you sense God’s presence there with you at the start and end of your day? What about the moments in between?

God is there for all of creation. In the beginning the work of his hands was pleasing to God. God called his work “good” or “very good” in the case of humankind. God, the Lord, continues to be in love with all of creation. It is all the work of his hands. The question that comes to mind this morning is this: how do we acknowledge and honor God’s connection to all of creation? In the general or corporate sense we begin by loving all of creation as God loves it. We continue to reveal his love by caring well for the created world and for one another. A second way we can love all of creation is by being connected ourselves.

God interacts with the world and with each of us every single day. One of my best and favorite ways to be connected is to literally write out each morning the ways that God blessed my life the day before. My list of 5-8 things contains mostly small ways that God blessed me or my day. I also close my quiet time each morning by writing about an act of kindness or two that I did to bless another that previous day. Both keep me focused on the love of God as it is revealed in the world and in my life. Both keep me mindful of my calls to love God and to love others.

In what ways do you seek to be in connection with God, with the created world, and with your fellow human beings each day? How do you take time each day to praise God for these connections and for the blessings in your life?

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, each day it humbles and amazes me to pause and look at the ways you touch my life and my days. Thank you for your love and care. I too am blessed when I touch other’s lives in small ways, sharing your love and care. Thank you for these blessings. Continue to use me each day as the revelation of your love and care for all of creation. Amen.


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Well Done…

Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30

Verse 23: “Well done, good and faithful servant!… Come and share your master’s happiness”.

We return today to the Parable of the Talents. Yesterday we focused on the one servant who allowed fear to hold him back. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to use the talents, gifts, resources… that God has given us to build up the kingdom here on earth. When we willingly and joyfully invest in the lives of others we do not lose those blessings ourselves, but we gain even more. The upside-down kingdom of God that we can experience is illustrated in today’s parable.

When we make the intentional choice to use the talents that the Master has given us, whatever the talent(s), we are usually investing in relationships. If your talent, for example, is working with children or youth, then your time given at Sunday school or VBS or youth group is being invested in their faith and in the relationships with the children or youth and their families. If your gift is musical, your time given in the choir or praise band is being invested in your faith, in the members of the group, and in the worshippers’ relationship with God. If your talent is cooking or baking and you invest time in providing food for the times of fellowship at church or for those in need in the larger community, then your talents are building relationships within the body of Christ or with the larger world. No matter what your talent, it can be used to build relationships and the kingdom.

Two of the servants in today’s parable invested the master’s money using the talents they had to bless their master. It was not for their own reward or profit. Yes, the master did bless them for their service. Our Master will as well. When we choose to live out our faith, using the talents that the Lord has given to each of us, we too will one day hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!… Come and share your master’s happiness”. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for orienting me towards doing and serving. Thank you for the talents that you have given me to live out my faith in these ways. On those days when I’d rather not, when I want to make the selfish choice, remind me again of your love and investment in me. Call me to do your will, not mine. Thank you, Lord Jesus. Amen.


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Serve with All Faithfulness

Reading: Joshua 24: 1-3 and 14-25

Verse 14: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped”.

As we enter the story at the end of the book of Joshua, the Israelites have entered and taken full possession of the Promised Land. God has led them to victory after victory under Joshua and now there is peace in the land. In chapter 23 Joshua says goodbye to the leaders of Israel. As a final act, in today’s and tomorrow’s readings, Joshua calls the people together to renew their covenant with the Lord our God.

Faithfulness to God has always been a challenge. In the wilderness, the Israelites whined and grumbled, they questioned Moses and God, they even fashioned and worshiped an idol. On the brink of entering the Promised Land, they doubted and feared that what lay ahead was too big even for God. Now that peace reigns, will the people lose focus on the God who has led them so far? Yes! We do too. I pray really well when in the midst of a struggle or time of suffering. I am dialed in. But when life is good, when all is well in my world, the bright and shiny of the world begins to look better. Joshua knows the people’s history and perhaps he knows about our tendency to drift. So his final action as the leader of God’s people is to gather them all together to tell them: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped”. This is Joshua’s version of “love the Lord our God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”. Focus on God, throw away all those idols you have stashed at the bottom of the moving box… Idols are always there, however. The peoples living around the Israelites will always have idols to worship. Marriages and other interactions will bring these idols before their eyes and hearts over and over. The temptation will always be present. And so it is with us. The world and the people living around us promote and worship all sorts of idols – money, possessions, popularity, titles… Our modern culture ever calls us towards more, better, bigger, newer… We too need to hear the call to “fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness”. As we hear this call again today, may we, like Joshua, choose to declare: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”. May the Lord our God bless each of us today as seek to live out this statement of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, this is a lovely statement, a lofty goal. Make it more than sentiment, more than an ideal. This day – this very day – may I serve you only. Tomorrow will be another day. I’ll have to ask again tomorrow. Today, Lord, today may I serve you only. Amen.


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Drawing In

Reading: John 4: 5-26

Verse 9: “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”?

The conversation in today’s passage is refreshing. Two people who do not previously know each other have an open and honest conversation. Wouldn’t it be nice if people who know each other could have at least this open and honest of a conversation? Let’s see how that may be possible.

The conversation we read in John 4 is honest and allows space for the other to speak and be heard. The woman is coming to the well alone in the sixth hour, which would be noon for us. All the other women came as a group in the early morning, in the cool of the day. As they came, drew water, and returned to the village they would have talked and caught up with one another. The woman at the well is alone and is isolated in her own community. After Jesus asks her for a drink, she replies, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”? Jesus is attempting to cross a few barriers here in order to enter into a conversation. She points out both the Jew-Samaritan and the male-female barriers. He continues the conversation, crossing the barrier of isolation. Jesus chooses to engage someone that most others ignore or avoid. In spite of the initial barriers that she tries to put up, Jesus continues to try and connect with her. Jesus offers her the “living water” and she reminds him that Jacob drank from this well and gave it to the Samaritans. The Samaritan connection to Jacob is their claim to equality with the Jews. She is testing Jesus – will he bite and allow the conversation to be derailed? No, he continues to offer her the water that leads to eternal life. You see, the gift of eternal life is much more important than any earthly defined barrier or difference. How can we model this belief in our efforts to share Jesus with others?

In verses sixteen through eighteen Jesus identifies the thing that keeps her on the fringes of society, outside of community. He does name it but there is no judgment, no taking of moral high ground. She falls back into the Jew-Samaritan barrier in verse twenty, but again Jesus persists, opening her eyes to see how God is working to break down worship and religious barriers, revealing a time when all believers will worship together in spirit and truth. Jesus is again leaning into the eternal. The woman at the well is beginning to sense what Jesus offers, connecting to the day when the Messiah will come. The conversation ends for now with Jesus claiming, “I am he”. Drawn in, the woman will soon draw others in.

This is the pattern of discipleship – sharing faith in Jesus with one person at a time. May we practice this model today.

Prayer: Father God, lead me past any barriers my earthly eyes may see at first. Open my heart and mind to the guiding of your Holy Spirit as I seek to share Jesus with others today. Amen.


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Love to Give

Reading: 1 Corinthians 13: 1-8

Verse 8: “Love never fails”.

Today we turn to the famous “love chapter”. It is popular at weddings because love is the core ingredient of a lifelong commitment. But Paul did not write these words as a homily for a wedding that he was going to officiate. Paul wrote these words because he knew that love had to be the core of all of our relationships – with our siblings and parents, with our spouse and our children, with our teammates and workmates, with our friends and with the stranger that we meet.

Paul seemed to know a few folks who were talented – one could move mountains – or who were kind – one who gave generously to the poor. He also knew that we can do good things yet they can be meaningless to God. Yes, giving food to a hungry family is good and meets a need, but if I do it grudgingly in my heart or with a look of contempt on my face, then it is “nothing”. It matters not to God if not done in love.

Paul also must have known what we ourselves experience. It is not always easy to love. He reminds us of what love is and does: patient, kind, rejoices in truth, protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. And he reminds us of what love is not: envious, proud, boastful, self-seeking, easily angered, score-keeping. Loving others is hard. Yet as followers of the One who was love, it is what we are called to be too.

Our passage today closes with, “love never fails”. Paul is speaking of God’s love here. Because Jesus was the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, His love is eternal. It will never fail. Yes, prophecies and tongues and knowledge will pass away. But love will always remain. In Jesus, we find the unending well of love. It is a love that is always poured out upon us, a love that we always have to give to others. May we share love as Jesus does – freely, lavishly, openly, to one and to all.

Prayer: Lord, may I know your love so completely that it becomes who I am. Amen.