pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Wait on Love

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Verses 10-11: “Then the disciples went back to their homes; but Mary stood outside the tomb crying”.

Very early in the morning Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. She is alone. She is filled with grief. She is still drawn to Jesus and his love. She returns to the scene of the end of a horrific day.

Seeing the stone has been rolled away, Mary runs to tell Peter and John. The two disciples run to the tomb – only to discover it as Mary had said. Only the grave cloths remain inside the tomb. Peter and John spend but a moment. “Then the disciples went back to their homes; but Mary stood outside the tomb crying”.

Peter and John return home. Clearly something is going on here. They go home. I too am like this sometimes. The Holy Spirit nudges me. Perhaps something is there – an opportunity to bless another, a chance to share the table with the other… I see the chance, but I go home.

Mary Magdalene lingers. She stands outside the tomb and criee, even though it is empty. Jesus is not here. She stands and cries, expressing the next wave of grief, responding to this next twist in the story. Looking into the tomb again, Mary sees two angels. They ask, “Woman, why are you crying”? Jesus is missing! Turning around, sensing someone behind her, she is asked the same question again, followed by, “Who is it you are looking for”? Through sobs and tears Mary inquires of Jesus’ whereabouts.

Mary has not lost her focus. Even though grief and heartache are almost overwhelming her, Jesus’ love is greater. Even though hope seems lost to the grave, Jesus’ love still draws her. “Mary”. He says her name. Love races past grief. Joy bounds by heartache. Hope soars over despair. “Mary”. He calls her name.

Mary lingered. She waited on love. Mary runs to disciples with great news: “I have seen the Lord”! This day, especially this day, may we linger, may we wait on love.

Prayer: God of all, your loves draws us in. Your love calls us to stay, to linger. In those sacred moments of waiting on the holy, draw us deeper into your love. Pour out upon us the blessings of the joy of resurrection! Amen.


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Fringes and Edges

Reading: Matthew 9: 9-13

Verse 11: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”?

Photo credit: Marten Newhall

Our passage today opens with Jesus calling another disciple as he walks along the road. The man he calls us named Matthew. He was sitting in his tax collector’s booth when Jesus said, “Follow me”. It’s hard to say what an equivalent calling would be today. Tax collectors were almost universally disliked and hated. They worked for the occupying force, the Romans, collecting taxes to pay for the enemy to stay in power. Most tax collectors gathered well above and beyond what the Romans required. Becoming rich was a side perk of this government job. Being wealthy was nice but the occupation limited one’s circle of friends. Matthew’s crowd would be limited to other tax collectors and others who took advantage of others. Money lenders, prostitutes, slave traders… would have been among the crowd at Matthew’s house as Jesus joined them for dinner.

Upon seeing the crowd that Jesus has chosen to become a part of, the Pharisees ask, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”? Why would Jesus call one of these to discipleship, to following him? Why would Jesus sit amongst this crowd of sinners? I suppose some people today think the same thing when they see their pastor emerging from the hymn sing at the local brewpub or when they see members of the outreach team exiting the local strip club. In response Jesus says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”. Jesus did not come to just sit around the temple or local synagogues chatting with the faithful about the scriptures. Yes, Jesus did this and this habit continues to be a very important part of our faith journey. But Jesus also spent the majority of his time doing ministry out in the world – among the tax collectors and sinners, among the hurting and broken, among the Gentiles and others who were marginalized by the religious establishment. These are the ones in need of a “doctor”. These are the ones in need of healing, wholeness, love, a sense of community.

Who are the tax collectors of your neighborhood or community? Who are those on the fringes and edges? How can you minister to these that Jesus surely would have?

Prayer: Lord God, make my heart and will more like yours. Guide my feet to those in need of your love and care. Bring me past the barriers and fears in my mind, trusting more fully in your guidance and direction. 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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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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The Journey

Reading: Matthew 4: 1-11

Verse 10: “Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan’! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only'”.

After forty days of prayer and fasting Jesus is tempted by Satan. The tempting begins with the most immediate need: food. Not having eaten for a long time, Satan goes after the apparent weakness. We too face these attacks in our lives. For those living with hardships it can be easy to question God about how he is providing for food, shelter, clothing and other necessities. For those a little better off the new car or new home can be the provision that Satan dangles in front of the eyes. For some they may ask God why they only have a net worth of $3,000,000. Few are immune to the lures of want and greed. Contentment can be an elusive target.

Failing at the first attempt, Satan turns to testing Jesus’ relationship with God. Satan places Jesus in a position to throw himself off the tower. Let’s see if God will rescue you, Jesus. To turn away this temptation Jesus reminds Satan that we are not to test God. But oh how we can test God. Maybe it is with the crazy physical things we do. It could be reckless living or excessive consumption. It could be willful disobedience to see if God really loves us. At times this can also manifest itself in times of trial or grief. We ask or wonder why we are going through something; we wonder why it goes on and on. These thoughts are testing God or questioning God’s love for us, his plans for our lives.

When this does not work either, Satan offers Jesus the supreme enticement: power. Some crave all-out, total power over all aspects of life. Some just like to be in control of their own lives and decisions. Most of us fall somewhere in between. The lengths we will go to to attain or maintain our desired level of power can vary, but too often we can rationalize away whatever we seem necessary to reach that goal. Along the way we can bow down to any number of idols or false gods. In each case we are ultimately choosing to put self and our will ahead of God and his will. Jesus knew the only correct order: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”.

The Christian journey is not easy. Satan is ever at work. To stay the course requires obedience, faith, and trust in God alone. May God ever be our companion on the journey.

Prayer: Loving God, just as you and your Spirit were with Jesus as he faced temptations, so too be with me. I am weak and Satan seems to know the chinks in my armor. Stand guard in those places, Lord. Be my shield and defender as I work to die to those sins. Build up my hope and faith in you alone. 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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God Remains

Reading: Psalm 42: 6-11

Verse 8: “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is within me – a prayer to the God of my life”.

Psalm 42 is an honest Psalm. The psalmist looks deep within and admits the hurt and pain and then asks God, why? Why must I be downcast? Why must my soul feel so disturbed? Where are you God? These are honest, heartfelt questions. They are questions we have all felt like asking before. In fact, if we are feeling like asking them now we can be sure that there are people around us who feel this way.

Even though there is no shortage of hurting in our world, we are reluctant to bring this to light with our friends and especially with our God. We do not like to share what we feel is bad news. We do not want to reveal our cracks and weaknesses. We fear driving away our friends. So we try and hold it in. We try and bottle it up. And then there is God. God is the God of love and light and hope. How could I bring this to God? We can and do seek relief or guidance, but to lay our hurts and pains bare before God feels as if we are being too exposed, too vulnerable, too weak…

In verse 8 we read, “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is within me – a prayer to the God of my life”. The psalmist chooses to remain connected to God day and night. Even though he is struggling and is full of questions and hurt, he stays connected. In the prayer that is the Psalm, he asks the questions. Why God? Why? And God’s response? God listens. God hears. There is no immediate resolution, no quick answers. But there is a connection to God, a relationship that is alive and well. God wants to walk with us always – whether we are full of joys, lost in sorrows, or anywhere in between. This is the message of Psalm 42.

The psalmist closes with hope. He is in the valley and has invited God into the valley. God is there. He also knows that the eternal God will remain. “I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God”. We are never alone. God remains.

Prayer: God, for those who feel disconnected and troubled today, help me to enter their valley and to be present. Help me then to be love and light and hope. Guide me to share your abiding presence with another today. Amen.


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Personal Call

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Verse 15: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for”?

Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early on the first day, prepared to visit the grave. She was present throughout the events of Thursday and Friday, when they tried, beat, and crucified her Lord. She was there when the stone was rolled in place, sealing the end of the story. Mary comes in the darkness, full of sorrow and grief and pain. She at first assumes Jesus’ enemies have stolen the body. Mary tells Peter and John; they run to the tomb and enter, finding just the linen and cloths lying there.

Peter and John return home, but Mary lingers. She stands outside the tomb crying. Grief has been added to grief. What else could she do but stand and weep? Two angels appear in the tomb and ask her why she weeps. Because they have taken the body of her Lord. A second question comes, this time from behind her: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for”? Maybe this is who took the body. Again, tell me where you have put the body. But then it happens. Jesus says to her, “Mary”. In that moment, in that personal and intimate moment, Mary knows it is Jesus. She cries out in recognition and hears the news from Jesus Himself. She goes and tells the disciples the good news: “I have seen the Lord”! Jesus is alive. He is risen!

As it was with Mary, so it is with us. Jesus calls out to each of us: Sue! Peter! Anna! Fred! Melanie! Steve! Beth! Mark! Hanna! Joshua! … When we search, Jesus calls out to us. He seeks us. He finds us. Some have walked a slow but pretty steady journey to the point that Jesus finally became personal, calling out our name. Some have had a sudden encounter with Jesus – unexpected and sudden, caused by situation or circumstance. The same Jesus called out your name. In that moment Jesus became your Lord and Savior. There are many ways to become friends with Jesus Christ. They all begin with the same question asked of Mary: whom are you looking for?

We are all looking for the same thing. All of humanity wants purpose and meaning and relationship. We find all this and more in Jesus Christ. In Him we find a deep satisfaction for all that our soul longs for. The eternal, big questions are all answered by the One who personally calls our name. If you do not know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, open your heart to Him. He will find you. If you know the Lord, rejoice today because we celebrate: He is risen! He is alive! Thanks be to God! Jesus is alive!!

Prayer: Lord of all, you are risen, resurrected, and eternal. Yet you are intimately connected to each of us. Hallelujah! 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.


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Pleasing to God

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 8: 1-8

Verse Three: “I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.”

Paul is encouraging the folks of the church in Corinth to be faithful in following through with their pledge to support the poor back at the home church in Jerusalem. Apparently, when first asked about giving to this cause, the Corinthian church was eager to help. But as time wore on their words did not quite match their actions.

If we are honest, we have all been there. We said ‘yes’ to something because it was a good thing to support or do. But as the event or the date approaches, we struggle to accomplish what we had promised to do. Maybe that date now has a competing interest. Maybe our finances have changed and it would be easier not to. And sometimes, what we committed to does not seem like such a good thing when it comes right down to it.

Paul does not know why the Corinthians are not coming through with their promised offering, he just knows that they are not. So Paul reminds them of their commitment. By way of being encouraging, he shares that the other churches have done the right thing in spite of their hardships. They gave generously. He also reminds them that this commitment is one of faith and of doing God’s will. Paul lifts us the things they do well – faith, knowledge, speech – and encourages them to do the same in their giving. Paul closes with a bit of a challenge: “test the sincerity of your love” by comparing it with the love of these other churches who kept their commitment.

When we too struggle to honor our commitment or to do what we said we’d do, it will do us well to first return to the ‘why’. Why did we feel led to say ‘yes’ or to make that commitment? Then we should test it against God’s will. Does this thing bring glory and honor to God? And if it is still difficult or hard to do it, then we should “test the sincerity of our love”. The last question we should ask is the question Paul also often asks: are we doing as much as we can for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? When all of these are affirmative, then we usually are able to honor our commitment. When we do we too come to know experience the joy of giving. May all we do and say be pleasing to God. Amen.