pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Are You Willing?

Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-8

Verse 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you a part.”

In verse 5 we hear Jeremiah’s call story. God is addressing him, readying him to begin his ministry. The Lord says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” This amazing statement is true for all of us. Before God’s hands brought our cells together, before God began to weave us together, God knew us. God knew our essence, our soul, our spirit. God knew who and what we were going to be created for before our first cells were formed. What an amazing and powerful thought.

Yet it gets better: “Before you were born I set you a part.” Woven together by God with a purpose for our lives, we were also set apart by God to live as a child of God. Created by God as a child of God we are to reflect our creator to the world. For each of us, God has a plan for how we are to do that. For Jeremiah, God created him to be a prophet. That might be what God created you to be too. Or maybe God created you to be a banker or a custodian, a mechanic or a lawyer, a business owner or a mom, a pastor or a carpenter, a chef or a firefighter… Whatever our vocation, we remain called by God to live a life set apart.

In verse 6 we hear Jeremiah’s ‘buts.’ we have them too. But God… Yet God says, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. I am with you.” God says the same thing to our ‘buts.’ Before I formed you… I knew you. Before you breathed your first breath, I set you apart. If we are willing, these are God’s truths and God’s promises. Are you willing?

Prayer: Lord God, it is amazing to consider that you have a vision for me and for each of us. You put me together in a unique and special way – to accomplish what you set me apart for. Wow. And you promise to go with me, step by step, word by word, deed by deed. Wowza! Thank you, God. Amen.


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A Little Willing

Reading: Isaiah 1:1 and 10-20

Verse 17: “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed…”

Turning once again to Isaiah 1, we consider more deeply the call we touched on yesterday. In this opening chapter God clearly lays out the issue and calls the people back to faithful living. The rote rituals and selfish hearts must turn towards God. The evil must stop and the doing of good must begin.

In verse 17 we get a short list of ways to do good in the world. It begins, “Seek justice…” There are 4 things on the list. The list could be 40 or maybe even 400. But if you’re like me, maybe even 4 seems like too much. I cannot seek justice and encourage the oppressed and defend orphans and widows and… It can feel overwhelming to have a list and it can literally wear us out if we try and do all things. We must realize that God isn’t asking each of us to do everything.

Sometimes God places a cause on someone’s heart. It can be a huge thing – like caring for the poor and sick of Calcutta or leading the fight for civil rights. Maybe you have such a call. For most Christians, though, the call is to a neighbor or to a local need. It can be small – like serving on a local board. It can be a little bigger – like leading a drive to collect needed school supplies. It can be calling to check on someone you missed at church. It can be anything that shares or spreads the love of Jesus Christ.

If we are just a little willing, God will surely provide opportunities to be light and love in the world. May we be willing and may the Holy Spirit empower us to witness to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, what will come my way today? Will it be a neighbor or a family that I meet? Will it be more? Less? Whatever you have for me, O Lord, may I be a faithful servant. Amen.


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Open and Obedient

Reading: Acts 16:9-13

Verse 10: “After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As we continue in Acts this week we see that the church continues to grow. The early church leaders have just made a significant decision: Gentile converts do not have to follow all of the Jewish laws to be Christians. Yes, to think that they should sounds weird. They’re becoming Christians, not Jews! Yet this still happens in churches today. We think new folks need to conform to our way of doing and being if they are going to be a part of our community of faith.

With the hard decision made by the council, Paul and companions head back out, visiting churches to share this decision and to encourage the churches. Today and tomorrow’s passage begins in Troas. But they’re not there long. In a vision Paul sees a man and is asked, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” In verse 10 we hear the reaction to the vision: “After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once.” They immediately got ready and went. Once they arrive in Philippi, they continue to be obedient to God’s guidance. On the Sabbath they go “where they expected to find a place of prayer.” Paul and his companions are obedient to the guidance God gives. Because they have open hearts and are obedient, God will use them in amazing ways.

The same is true for you and me. God is always speaking, nudging, leading us – or at least trying to. If you’re like me, you can ignore, avoid, put off the promptings at times. Yet we are called to have open hearts and obedient minds, allowing ourselves to be used by God is amazing ways. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, what might you have for me today? I ask that you would use me for the building of your kingdom. Help me first to be open and willing then guide me to hear and follow. Amen.


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Do You Love Me?

Reading: John 21:15-19

Verse 17: “The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?'”

Photo credit: Mitchel Lensink

On our third day in John 21 we turn to a personal interaction between Jesus and Simon Peter. It is personal because it is a restoration of relationship. After giving another example of humble service to his disciples, Jesus makes sure that Simon understands and is ready to move forward in ministry.

It is important to first note the name Jesus uses: Simon son of John. Jesus does not call him Peter, the rock. He was anything but a rock that night in the courtyard of the high priest’s house. It is important to also note that Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” This mirrors the three denials in the courtyard.

By the third time, we see that Peter is hurt. Peter – that’s the name that John uses in verse 17. Jesus asks Simon a third time not to hurt him but to make sure that Peter hears and understands the question. Jesus really wants to be sure that he’s speaking to Peter the rock, not the Simon who denied Jesus, who cut off an ear, who leaps out of the boat…

In response to Simon’s declarations of love, Jesus tells him to feed and care for the sheep – the lost and the vulnerable. This is what Jesus has just done – feeding the lost and fearful disciples, caring for the hurting and vulnerable Simon Peter. Jesus is driving home the point that it’s not just about Peter. He so often wants to lead, to be first. So Jesus closes the conversation with a few words about the sacrifice that will be required of Peter. It is a sobering reminder that we follow for Christ’s glory, not our own.

To follow Jesus asks for a deep commitment and a willingness to serve and feed and care for the least and the lost. That is Jesus’ main point to Peter. It is his main point to us as well. This day may you and I truly reflect our commitment to Jesus Christ as he asks us, “Do you love me?”

Prayer: Lord God, lead me past self and into a place of loving and caring for and feeding those in need physically, spiritually, emotionally. May it be so. Amen.


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A Difficult Road

Readings: Luke 13:1-5 and 1st Peter 3:8-17

Verse 8: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.”

Photo credit: Jan Huber

In the first half of this week’s passage from Luke 13, Jesus is presented with two scenarios, both with the same theme. In these scenarios people suffer a great tragedy. Those present ask Jesus if those who died suffered because they were “worse sinners”. In other words, did God single them out because of their sin? Jesus’ short and emphatic answer is “No!” Turning the conversation back to those present, Jesus twice says, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Yes, we’ll all die one day. God does not go out of God’s way to punish us here for our sins. But ultimately, we will perish and spend eternity outside of God’s glory if we choose to live in sin.

These concepts of suffering and living faithfully are continues in our 1st Peter 3 passage. Our passage begins with these words: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” Living faithfully involves getting along, being understanding and loving and caring, practicing humility. Jesus modeled this way of living. Peter also encourages us to not repay evil with evil but instead to be a blessing even to those who cause suffering in our lives. Jesus also modeled this way of living. Going further, Peter invites us to be willing to suffer for our faith at times. This idea of being willing to suffer is incongruent with our “feel good”, selfish culture. To do or say something that might bring some actual suffering is greatly avoided.

Yet this is the way of the cross. Jesus asks us to have a willingness to do what he did: to carry a cross, to walk a difficult road. For us, the first step is offered by Peter in verse 15: “in your heart set apart Christ as Lord.” This decision leads us to always choose Jesus’ way over the way of the world. Jesus’ way is primarily the way of love. Loving enough will lead us to times of suffering and sacrifice. This includes having less so that others can have some. This includes standing with those who are experiencing injustice, being a voice for equality, engaging oppressive systems. Each of these difficult roads invite suffering and require sacrifice. When we are willing to repent from the sinful ways of the world, when we are willing to practice compassion and empathy and understanding, when we are willing to carry a cross for the other, then we are our world will be changed. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a willingness and a courage to walk the difficult road. With a heart to suffer for others, send me out into the brokenness of the world. With a holy courage, lead me to those who need voice, to those who need one willing to stand beside them. Amen.


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In Progress

Reading: Luke 5:1-11

Verse 8: “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.”

Photo credit: Ben White

God’s call comes to us all. The call comes over and over. God’s call comes in ways that vary by person – some feel like big calls and others feel well within our abilities and reach. In today’s passage God incarnate happens into Peter’s life (and into James’, John’s, and Andrew’s), and calls them to follow. In the lives of all disciples, there is a moment when Christ calls out and we decide to respond by following him as our Lord and Savior. For most of us, like Peter, we do not say ‘yes’ immediately.

Peter is at first overwhelmed by Jesus’ presence. Realizing who was in his boat along with all those fish, Peter declares, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.” Peter identifies his unworthiness to be in the proximity of the divine. He understands in that moment how far he is from the perfection of Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t bother Jesus in the slightest. After all, people like Peter are why he came. Jesus came for the least and the lost.

Peter falters in his call and Luke and the other gospel writers detail lots of other failures of Peter. This is one of the things I love about the Bible. We are not spared the ugliness of the lives that God uses. For example, we don’t just read of David’s victories – we get the failures too. It is an honest recounting of these lives that God used to change the world.

Seeing that God used Peter and others whose lives were far from perfect, I realize that God can and wants to use anyone. God wants to use me, to use you, to change the world. Perfection is definitely not a requirement. Like Peter, we are all a work in progress, especially after we accept the call to follow. And like Peter, may we be willing to step forward in faith, following Jesus wherever he leads.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for seeing each of us as worthy builders of your kingdom. Far from perfection, you seek to use even me. Your love and grace work in tandem, crafting a servant’s heart in all who are willing. Thank you, God. Amen.


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The Better Yet to Come

Reading: John 2: 1-11

Verse 7: “Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.'”

Today we turn our attention to the first of Jesus’ miracles: turning water to wine at a wedding banquet. The wedding must have been of a good family friend. First, Mary is there as are Jesus and his disciples. Second, Mary has an interest in things going well. It was Mary who said to Jesus, “They have no more wine,” hinting at her son to take action. Jesus senses this, asking her why she involves him because “my time has not yet come”. Ignoring this – perhaps mother knows best – Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them.

Jesus tells the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” That’s it. It is a pretty simple directive. Yet somehow the contents of the jars has become good wine – noticably better than the wine first served. The first is usually the better wine. One can get away with a lesser wine after the guests have been drinking a while. But this extravagance is only part of the story. There is also an abundance in Jesus’ miracle. The six stone jars were large – each representing 10-12 cases of wine. In both ways – in the willingness to act and in the abundance of the action – we get a sneak peak of what Jesus’ ministry will be like.

Maybe there is another angle here. Maybe the old wine, the one used up first, is the old Jewish religion. In many ways it has run dry. It has become much less than God intends. It is rules and rituals – empty stone jars for ceremonial washing. There is no life in it. Jesus is the new wine. He reveals God’s love and blessings and abundance in new ways, in ways that are full of life. He is the better that is yet to come. May this be so for you and for me as well.

Prayer: Lord God, your love and care and provision is abundant and amazing – like the good wine at the wedding feast. You loved generously and poured yourself out for others. Help me to live the same way. Amen.


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Those Footsteps

Reading: Luke 1: 50-55

Verse 50: “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.”

In the second half of Mary’s Song she recognizes the ways that the coming kingdom of God will impact the world. Mary chooses to look past the potential and personal implications of living into God’s plan. There are two realities that Mary trusts to God by saying “yes.” Pregnancy and childbirth were far from safe. Some mother’s did not survive childbirth. The more lasting impactful reality would be to live out life as an unwed mother. There was no social welfare system. Such women would be left to struggle for the rest of their lives. And yet Mary said “yes.”

Mary sings, “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” She speaks of Israel’s history, of her trust in this God, and of the work of the one in her womb. She goes on to prophesy about how Jesus will “scatter those who are proud” and will “bring down ruler’s from their thrones.” Perhaps speaking a bit more to her story but still to the past and future, Mary sings on. She glorifies how her son will “lift up the humble” and will “fill the hungry with good things.” As he did with the words of many Old Testament prophets, so too will Jesus fulfill these words of Mary.

Jesus will accomplish and do all these things and more. He will be the love of God lived out fully without concern for self. Establishing his upsidedown kingdom, Jesus will face adversity, challenge, and worse from the proud rulers of his day. He will elevate the cause of the ones without voice, without means, without community. This too will come at a cost. We are thankful to be lifted up and filled by Jesus. We are grateful to receive his mercies. Are we willing to walk in these footsteps, loving without regard for self as Jesus did?

Prayer: Lord God, help me to look past the risks as Mary did and to follow in the loving and merciful footsteps of Jesus Christ, your son. Amen.


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Faithful and Obedient

Reading: Luke 1: 46-50

Verse 46: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

As we continue in Luke’s gospel today we begin to hear Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s exclamation of blessing for those who are faithful and obedient, for those who trust and believe in God’s plans. What is known as “Mary’s Song” is a spirit-filled expression of faith that pours forth from young Mary.

Mary begins with “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Profoundly touched by God’s presence in her young life, Mary glorifies God and rejoices in God’s work in her life. Rather than running or shying away, Mary embraces God’s call on her life. She celebrates the fact that God has chosen her. Mary notes how God has chosen the humble. She has been taught and has been intentional about living a humble life. Mary sees that this faithful and obedient choice has been noticed by God.

Mary demonstrates her humble heart in the next verse. In verse 49 she gives thanks for this blessing of God as she exults how “the mighty One has done great things for me.” Sensing that the holy has touched her life, Mary is grateful for God’s mercies. She has found a new depth to her faith. God has become real and tangible to Mary and her faith soars.

God gives you and I opportunity to experience and encounter the holy. God invites us into holy movements in our lives and in the world around us. When we are like Mary was when God called – humble and obedient – then God will touch our lives, helping our faith to grow. And some of the time we are blessed as we see God at work in the world. Just yesterday I witnessed two random people’s generosity towards the other. A man ringing a bell by a red bucket received a coat from a random stranger. It was brought out to him by a store employee as we were entering the store. Still smiling from that God moment, just inside I then overheard a man asking another story employee where the gloves were – he wanted to buy some for the man outside ringing the bell. Small ways to be light and love, yes? Ways we can all duplicate. Ways we can all be touched by the holy. Ways we can share the holy with the other. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for reminding me that you call the humble and the obedient. Help me to be more of both. And thank you for reminding me that small things can be big things too. I don’t need to change the world. You call me to love one at a time. Empower me today to be bold and courageous in how I love. Amen.


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Amazing Things

Reading: 2nd Samuel 7: 1-14

Verses 13-14: “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son”.

Yesterday we looked at David’s desire to build God a house as an expression of his gratitude to God. The prophet Nathan readily agreed initially. But in a vision that night God reveals much bigger plans. This is often the way of God. Even in our small lives God will do amazing things if we are but willing servants.

I’m sure that what David would build for God would be grand and most impressive. But all earthly things will fade or crumble or cease to exist. A building is David’s plan for God, the eternal one. After reminding David that he and Israel are where they are at because of God alone, God extends these blessings, saying, “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son”. The line of David will be forever blessed. His son Solomon will build a magnificent temple, yes. But the kingdom will last forever. That is a promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ, God’s Son born of the line of David.

What a contrast between the plans of a man and the plans of God! It seemed like such a great idea to build God a house. And then God took ahold of it and applied God sized vision to it, doing amazing things. It makes me wonder, what small God-honoring plan do I have that God might just blow up to create or do something being my imagination? What plans are you laying out that God could grab ahold of and go and go? Like David, when we are but faithful and willing servants, God can and will do amazing things. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God of all things, the works of your hands and the expressions of your faithfulness amaze me. Your plans are far beyond my small imagination and my too often guarded faith. Help me to be more faithful, more trusting, more willing. Amen.