pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Welcome and Hospitality

Reading: Jeremiah 29: 1 and 4-7

Verses 5 and 6: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat… Marry and have sons and daughters”.

Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles invites them to become a part of the society that they have been forced into. It can be the tendency to try and remain isolated and to hold onto what makes one unique. Thinking back to the high point of immigration in the US, for example, cities had ethnic neighborhoods like Little Italy and Chinatown. In some cases whole towns had a mostly homogeneous ethnic make-up. In our passage today, God is encouraging the Israelites to become a part of where they are. They are instructed to “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat… Marry and have sons and daughters”. They are to live with and amongst their new neighbors.

Today we have both immigrants and refugees that come to the US. The refugees are most like the exiles because these groups tend to arrive in significant numbers. There are often language barriers and usually social and cultural differences as well. These factors tend to isolate us from our new neighbors and vice versa. But they do not have to. A little north and east of the town I live in is a town that welcomes refugees and immigrants. The school system works hard to help the children and the community provides employment opportunities for the adults. Churches play a role in the acclimation process in a number of ways. The Latino and Hmong people have enriched and have helped the whole community to thrive. They are not without instances of prejudice and intolerance, but overall it is a successful experiment. They are modeling well Jesus’ example of loving the other.

In almost all of our communities we have new people move in. In my town they usually come from another town in or near South Dakota, but occasionally they are from further abroad. In these cases, we too should extend welcome and hospitality to them. We as Christians should do what we can to help them succeed and flourish because when they prosper, we prosper too – not just economically but socially and spiritually as well.

As individuals, as churches, and as communities, may we be people of love, extending radical hospitality to all we meet. In doing so we also extend God’s love.

Prayer: Father of all, help me to be a friend to all. Empower me to love others unconditionally, just as you love me. Create in me generous hands and feet and a giving heart, just as Jesus modeled for us. Thank you, Father God. Amen.

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See and Engage

Reading: Luke 13: 10-13

Verse 12: “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity'”.

Perhaps you know someone like this woman. They are limited by some ailment – at least from most people’s perspectives. Like this woman, they mostly live on the fringes of society. She would have been unable to work and would have relied on family or the kindness of others. To some this is a burden, pushing her closer to the fringe. The common understanding is that she is crippled by a spirit – another reason to avoid her. To many on the periphery of her life, she would have long ago blended in. Those in the synagogue probably don’t notice her coming and going most days. Today there are people just like this woman.

Over the years I have helped lead a few high school mission trips. Without fail we meet people like this woman. Their ailment might be physical, like hers. But more often than not it is emotional. They might have a mental illness or a traumatic experience has impacted them. Once in a while the person is simply very different and this creates the barrier. There is also something that happens without fail. A youth or a group of youth will come back from a day of serving and will share that “that guy” or “that woman” is a really neat person or that they have a really cool life story. Almost all of the time they shift to calling them by name part way through the retelling and that almost always ends with some version of a “he/she is just like us” statement.

In order for all that to happen, at least two things must occur. First, the youth(s) must be willing to see the other. Second, they must be willing to engage the other. This is what Jesus did in our story. In verse twelve we read, “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity'”. He saw her come in. He chose to engage her. She was absolutely worthy of his time and attention. The barriers that others saw and the Sabbath day barrier did not stop Jesus. He ministered to her that day. Her life was forever changed. On mission trips or whenever we engage those like the woman, we do not heal them. But we do introduce them to the idea that Jesus can.

Today, who will you truly see and engage that others avoid or do not notice?

Prayer: Lord, continue to give me eyes to see the other and a heart to engage them. Lead and guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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God’s Call

Reading: Jeremiah 1: 4-10

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

Today we hear God’s call on a young Jeremiah. It is a call to be a prophet to the people of God. Jeremiah is living in a time right before and into when Jerusalem falls and the people are carried off into exile. The people’s unfaithfulness leads to being conquered and taken into exile. It is into this situation that God calls Jeremiah. The call begins with these words: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”. In these words we clearly hear that God has long had a plan for Jeremiah. Even before his body began to form in the womb, God knew him and had identified him as a prophet. That is a powerful call.

Jeremiah immediately tries to avoid the call. How like Jeremiah we all are! Jeremiah tries to put up two barriers to serving. He does not know how to speak and he is just a child. We too can quickly come up with reasons. We tend to do this much more quickly than we say ‘yes Lord’. Whether the call is a momentary call, like helping out a neighbor one afternoon, or if it is a call to full-time ministry, we too can find lots of reasons to not answer the call. Many times I have not stopped to help or engage someone the Spirit is prompting me to serve. I’m too busy, there is something more pressing… The reasons come so easy. Often I have chosen not to give when I could have or to volunteer when when I had both the time and the ability.

When I began to feel the call to leave teaching to become a pastor, the decision was hard to make. It required trust in God and it took a step of faith. God kept working on me, gradually leading me to take the step. After we made the decision, my wife and I told our three children. The oldest, then in college, simply said, “It’s about time”. It was one more reminder that, like Jeremiah, God knew me and had appointed me to serve his church.

Each of us hears God’s call upon our lives over and over. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ invites each of us into ministry with him. Whether as a pastor or school teacher or business person or coach or retired person or… God calls us all and leads us all into service. In whatever way God has created and equipped us, we are all called to follow Jesus’ commission to “go and make disciples of all people”. May we each answer the call today.

Prayer: God, thank you for where you have called me. The road is not always easy, the task is often challenging. Yet thank you for where you have planted me. I know you walk with me. Help me each day to be faithful in the small things that build up your kingdom here. Lead and guide me. Amen.


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Come

Reading: Revelation 22: 12-14, 16-17, and 20-21

Verse 17: “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life”.

Our reading today opens with the reminder, “I am coming soon”! Jesus is not speaking in our time frame but in His. Our life is but a mist (James 4:14), so our time reference is different than God’s. Jesus then goes on to remind us that He was there in the beginning and will be there at the end. Jesus was there at creation and will be there at the new creation and beyond.

Jesus will welcome all who “wash their robes”. These will have the right to the tree of life and can enter the new Jerusalem. Sin is the barrier between us and Jesus. When we live with sin in our lives, we are separated from Christ Jesus. When we acknowledge our sins and repent of them, seeking to live and walk with Jesus, then our sins are forgiven. When we do this, we are washing our robes.

Once we are made right with Jesus, we can enter into His presence. One day that means into eternity. In verse 17 we hear the invitation, “Come”! John goes on to expand on this invitation by saying, “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life”. We have a natural thirst for God. It is that hole inside all of us that can only be filled by a personal relationship with God in Christ. This hole is created in us the moment we are woven together by God. We are made in His image; therefore we long for God – we thirst for a relationship with Him. To our thirst, He simply says, “Come”. We are invited to take from the “free gift” and to drink of it deeply. It is the water of life. Jesus gives us life here and offers us life eternal too.

The passage for today closes by Jesus once again saying, “Yes, I am coming soon”. I love John’s response: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus”. Yes, you are coming soon. Thanks be to God. And all of God’s people say, amen.

Prayer: Father, today I join John saying come, come Lord Jesus. Come now into my life. Come soon to make all things new. Come, Lord Jesus, come! Amen.


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A Wonderful Day

Reading: Revelation 21:10, 21:22-22:5

Verse 26: “On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there”.

Today’s passage comes at the end of the Bible. The world that we see outside our windows and will step into just outside our doors today will not exist any longer. Our passage opens today with John seeing the Holy City coming down. It is a city of light and love. There is no temple – God and the Lamb are the temple. There is no sun or moon – God is the light and Jesus is the lamp. Only the children of God will inhabit the city and “on no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there”. All whose names are in the “Lamb’s book of life” will come and go freely. The river of life will feed the tree of life. It will bring healing to the nations – there will “no longer be any curse” – no pain, no tears, no grief… God and Jesus will reign forever. It will be a wonderful day.

Yet today, in the world just outside our window, just beyond our door, there is brokenness and evil and despair and division. This vision of heaven in Revelation is a someday vision. We live in this earthly reality. Our task as followers of Christ is to work to bring vision and reality closer together today and each day. We are to seek to build the kingdom here on earth. This heavenly vision draws us and helps us to focus on the task at hand. Our primary focus is how we live our day to day lives, striving to bring healing and hope and love and light to the world we inhabit. In building the kingdom here on earth we seek to end division and to break down barriers that separate us from one another. When we live together, celebrating our differences, not in spite of them, then the peace and love of God and Jesus will reign. If we can live and love and bring hope and light into the world each day, then each day will be a wonderful day. May it be so for me and for you.

Prayer: Bringer of light and love, of hope and peace, use me as an instrument of yours today. Help me to walk side by side with all of my brothers and sisters in the world today. Enable me to break down all that separates in order to build up your kingdom here on earth. Guide me, O Lord. Amen.


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Power

Reading: Luke 13: 31-35

Verse 31: “Some Pharisees came to Jesus and said, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else, Herod wants to kill you'”.

Power is something Jesus, the Pharisees, and Herod all have. Power is something we all have too. The Pharisees and Herod see Jesus’ power as threatening to their power. We too can see Jesus’ power as something that can threaten our lives too.

Jesus uses His power to do good for others. He uses His power to teach a better way of life: the way of love. He also uses His power to heal and restore people. The physical healings of the blind, lame, deaf, crippled, mute, leprous… restore people back into community. The spiritual healings of the tax collectors, prostitutes, theives, adulterers… restore people to wholeness. Jesus’ power is a power that gives life to both the individual and the community.

The Pharisees’ and Herod’s power is centered upon themselves. It is used to take from others and to keep others down in order to build up their own comfort and prestige. It is the opposite of Jesus’ giving power. Some Pharisees say to Jesus, “Leave this place and go somewhere else, Herod wants to kill you”. Go away Jesus, you are raining on our parade. Jesus sees right through them. Basically He says He has things to do and they or Herod cannot and will not get in the way.

This too is true of our power. When we follow God’s lead and use our power to do the right thing, to correct the wrong thing, to share Jesus’ love and care, to help one in need – nothing on earth can stop us. Yes, some can oppose us too and some can put up barriers, but they are just bumps in the road. Just as it was with Jesus, no obstacle can stop what God wants to accomplish in and through us. God will always prevail. This fact is what kept Jesus driving towards Jerusalem, towards the cross. Jesus had an unshakable faith in God’s plan. May we live the same way all day, every day. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord of heaven and earth, may I use the power I have in you to bring good, to offer love, to lift others up. Amen.


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A Plan

Reading: Luke 5: 8-11

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

Peter, James, and John experience a miracle. In the same lake that they caught absolutely nothing a couple of hours ago, they now catch a huge amount of fish. At the time of day when they don’t usually fish because you usually catch fish at night, they catch a huge amount of fish. In the same nets that they often catch some fish, they have a huge amount of fish. They are astonished.

Simon Peter will always be the one to speak or act out without thinking, without considering the affects or the consequences. It is Peter who voices what James and John must’ve been feeling too. Peter says, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man”. In the presence of holiness, Peter sees himself as unworthy. Standing next to the light, Peter becomes aware of his own darkness. This is what the light does: it reveals what is hidden in the darkness. This is what continues to make people uncomfortable with living a life of faith. The light reveals what must die within us. To follow Jesus we must first look within and admit what must go. We first die to self and then to our sins. These thoughts scared Peter and led him to make his confession: “I am a sinful man”.

Jesus does not see this as a barrier. Yes, it is something that we must get past. Yes, it is something hard. Yes, it requires discipline and effort. But, when we walk with Jesus Christ, our sins are something we can overcome. Jesus had absolute confidence in the fact that He is the path to the Father; that He is the way, the truth, and the life; and, that one can be saved solely by faith in Him alone. Jesus says to Simon Peter, “don’t be afraid”. Jesus knows the life that He offers is the only true life. Yes, stepping out of the darkness and into the light is scary – it reveals our warts and blemishes and our sins. And just as Jesus invites Peter, so too does He invite all people.

Jesus continues, telling Peter, “from now on you will catch men”. Not only does Jesus tell Peter not to be afraid, He also tells Peter that He has a plan for him. And what a plan it is! Peter, James, and John leave all behind that day – all they owned – and followed Jesus.

Jesus has a plan for each of our lives as well. He has a purpose for each of us in His kingdom here on earth. What is Jesus asked me to leave behind so that I can come and follow Him more closely?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, reveal to me that which I must let go of or courageously step into to best follow you. Guide me Jesus. Thank you! Amen.