pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Practicing #1 and #2

Reading: Matthew 23: 1-12

Verse 3: “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach”.

Jesus has been ministering for about three years at this point. He has had ample opportunities to interact with and to observe the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus and these religious leaders have the same audience, teach from the same source materials, live in the same society. Much like today, when you can get two radically different approaches from two medical experts concerning the safest way to live in these pandemic times, Jesus and the religious leaders had so much in common, but they differed radically in how best to follow God.

The religious leaders occupy a place – “the Moses seat” – that calls for respect and gives them authority, a platform from which to speak into the people’s lives. But this is an earthly platform, given to them by other earthly people. As is the case with many earthly positions of power, they were beholding to others. The leader of the group, the high priest, was appointed by the Romans. There were certain expectations that came with the appointment. The religious leaders were subject to the high priest, which also connected them to the political power of the day. Because these religious leaders held a place of authority, they could exert control over the people. Jesus acknowledges this place of authority. While he recognizes their place of authority, he does not agree with their practices. To this point, in verse three he says: “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach”. They say one thing and do another. They pick and choose what to say based on their current situation. For example, the religious leaders preach about loving your neighbor, but there are many they do not see as neighbors – the Gentiles, the sinners, the sick…

Jesus, by contrast, teaches and practices the belief that everyone is your neighbor. Jesus teaches it and then goes out and live it, loving the lepers and the blind, the tax collectors and the prostitutes… Jesus practices what he preaches, with love as the greatestest commandment of his faith. The religious leaders would cute law #217 or good old #359 (the one that previous religious leaders had made up) to avoid loving certain people. Jesus, instead would preach and practice #1 and #2, loving God and loving neighbor, in their rightful place: first and foremost. As we consider Jesus’ example, may we also do the same as we seek to live out, to actually practice, loving God and loving neighbor above all else. May we be love in the world today.

Prayer: God of love, when I look at Jesus, I see one who did as he taught. He loved one and all, yes, but he loved you most of all. Each day, guide me to live this out, loving you with all that I am, allowing that to lead me to really love others more than myself. Amen.


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A Faith Story

Reading: John 9: 1-25

Verse 25: “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see”!

The gospel lesson for this week reads like a short story. There are lots of twists and turns. The story begins as the disciples bring a blind man to Jesus’ attention. They want to know whose sin caused the blindness. Jesus shares that there is no one to blame. He tells them that the man was born blind so that “the glory of God might be displayed”. To facilitate this happening, Jesus makes some mud, places it on the blind man’s eyes, and tells him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. In Jesus’ day the pool would have been used for ritual cleansing. Miraculously, the man can now see.

Because the healing occurred on the Sabbath, an investigation begins. The man is brought in and questioned. He explains what happened. The Pharisees are divided: “No one holy would heal on the Sabbath”… or… “No one could heal if not holy”. They ask the man for his thoughts on Jesus: “He is a prophet”. The parents are then brought in to verify that this is their son and that he was indeed born blind. They confirm this but will not venture into speculating about Jesus. They are afraid of being put out of the synagogue.

The man who was born blind has no such fears. The religious leaders state, “We know this man is a sinner”. They want the man to go along with them. He does not. The power of his healing is greater than the power of control that the religious leaders are trying to use. All he knows is that this man put mud on his eyes and healed him. He says to the religious leaders, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see”! He acknowledges this simple truth about Jesus. It is his personal experience. It will become part of his testimony and part of his faith story.

Thinking of our own faith journeys, when has Jesus brought healing to you? Whether it was physical or emotional or spiritual or relational, we have all been touched by Jesus. Our experience is part of our story, part of our faith journey. Ponder your line: “I once was ___ but now I ___”.

Prayer: Lord God, I once was stuck living in the world too. I once lived for popularity and the approval of man. Now I find my trust and my contentment in you. Thank you for setting me free. Amen.


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Deeper

Reading: 1st Samuel 16: 1-13

Verse 7: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart“.

In today’s passage, David is anointed to be the next king of Israel. At the time, Saul is the king. He is in good health and will remain the king for some time. David is going to learn and grow and mature before stepping into this role that God has selected him for. It is a process. The process will be guided by God. In verse thirteen we read, “from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David”. From God’s perspective this all made sense. After all, it is his plan.

From the human perspective, it was confusing at best. Once the hurdles were all crossed and Samuel is present with Jesse and most of his family, the parade of prospects begins. One by one Jesse’s sons pass before Samuel, horn of oil at the ready. The oldest son is Eliab. Seeing him Samuel immediately thinks he is the one. Eliab must have been tall and handsome, muscular and refined. But God tells Samuel “no”. I imagine the horn of oil dropped a little bit just then, going further and further down as each son passes by, until at last it dangles by his side.

We too can fall into the trap that Samuel and Jesse and probably all the elders and sons fell into. We too judge by appearance. The appearance may be physical, it may be based on the college they attended, it may be by the car they drive or the home they occupy, it may be by the title that hangs outside their office door, it may be by the position they play on the team. These would be valid tools for judgment if all that mattered was their drive to get to the top. Sadly, though, when we judge by what we can first see, then we often fail to go any deeper. Too often that first judgment prevents us from going deeper and prevents us from seeing who and what someone really is. God had a word for us today when this is our first tendency: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart“.

Tying this thought into the model set by the one we follow, we see what this good word from God looks like lived out in the world. Jesus never ever stopped at tax collector or Samaritan or woman or leper or prostitute or blind or possessed or… Jesus always pressed deeper, developing a relationship that went far beyond some surface-level label. Going deeper, the labels always fell away. May we too strive to go deeper, to go way past labels and first appearances. May we too strive to get to know the heart of each we meet, for there we begin to see as God sees. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, help me to practice you counter-cultural and counter-intuitive love today. Help me to see those needs that you place before me and to fill them with your love. Amen.


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Our Call

Reading: Isaiah 42: 1-9

Verse 6: “I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles”.

As Christians, we see the Bible as God’s continuing revelation of who God is. The love story between God and humanity unfolds from Genesis through Revelation. We receive the fullest revelation of God in the incarnate Jesus. He is our Immanuel – God with us. Jesus was physically present for about 30 years and has been spiritually present in the Holy Spirit ever since.

When we read our passage for today, as Christians we see and identify Jesus in these words. We cannot be 100% sure that the servant of whom Isaiah writes is Jesus. But we can be sure that Jesus himself takes on this identity and these qualities. At the time, Jesus did not appear to be the Messiah most Jews were looking for. They expected and longed for another leader like King David – one who would slay giants and enemies alike, one who would restore Israel to greatness on the world stage. Jesus was and is instead a servant who builds a very different kingdom one lost soul at a time.

In verse six Isaiah writes, “I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles”. Reading with New Testament eyes we see these words fulfilled in the new covenant founded upon Jesus’ sacrifice. When thinking of justice, the justice that God offers is not the justice of the world. Here justice means you pay and/or spend time incarcerated, depending on your offence. Jesus suffered and died to pay the price for our sins. Because he made atonement, God grants us mercy and grace and forgiveness. God’s justice seeks to restore and redeem, to bring back wholeness and abundant life. Jesus picks up these themes and runs with them. He ministers to those in need, giving sight to the blind, freedom to the captives, shining light into the darkness. Jesus fulfills God’s justice for all people. He will commission the disciples and all else who follow him to continue to bring the good news to the ends of the earth. As believers, this too is our call.

Maybe you call begins at home with a non-believing spouse or child or parent. Maybe it begins down the street, in your neighbor’s front yard. Maybe your call begins at school with your classmates or teammates or at work with your coworker or employee or boss. Most often the mission field is close to home. But maybe yours is far away. Step one is still the same: follow where God leads. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: God of abundant love, you are ever inviting more and more people into your love. Through me may some outside the family of God hear your invitation to wholeness and abundant life. Use me as you will, O God. Amen.


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New Life Blooms

Reading: Isaiah 35: 1-10

Verse 10: “Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away”.

In my Bible today’s chapter is titled “Joy of the Redeemed”. The first two lines speaks of redeeming creation – new life blooms in the desert. The next two lines speak of redeeming God’s people. God will strengthen the feeble and the fearful. Both of these stanzas are about God’s desire and efforts to bring new life and wholeness to all of creation. For a nation laid waste and a people feeling that all was lost, these words would be full of meaning.

In verse five and the first part of six, Isaiah gets more personal with those most in need of healing and wholeness. These infirmities would keep these folks outside of true community, so their isolation would feel even greater and their vulnerability would be increased. Isaiah tells them that the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the mute will also be restored. These physical healings will lead to emotional and spiritual restoration too. Even today this is the order we most often experience. Physical needs must be met first. It is true in our schools, in our churches, in our shelters…

Isaiah continues in verse six and into seven with the physical restoration of the created world. But like the crocus blooming in the desert, these words can be read figuratively as well. Water represents new life in the faith of the people. The spring is their renewed faith bubbling up. In the haunts where evil once lay, new growth will come. Into a dry and weary people God will bring forth new life and hope.

These words of hope and promise still apply to God’s people, to our lives and our times as well. In those seasons where grief or trial or testing make our faith and life feel dry, when we are weary of the hard road we’ve been trudging, we too can recall that God still reigns, that God still desires good for us, that our redeemer lives. With God’s presence and surrounded by our faith communities, we can step forward and walk where only the redeemed and restored walk. We walk forward, uplifted on our earthly journey, one eye on our imperishable inheritance. With gladness and joy overtaking us, with sorrow and sighing falling away, we bear witness to our faith in this life and in the new life to come. We know the joy of the redeemed. May we walk in it all of our lives.

Prayer: Lord God, it is good to remember my place in your family. You have claimed me since before I was born. I confess Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I know your joy. I live in your strength. I eagerly await the crown of life. You are my God. I am so thankful. Amen.


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Never the Same

Reading: Luke 19: 1-10

Verse 5: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today”.

Zacchaeus is like many we see coming to Jesus. He is not popular. He lives on the edge or outside of society. He has few friends. He is looked down upon by the religious order and by almost everyone else. This tax collector is like others who came to Jesus: the lepers, the prostitute, the adulterous woman, the blind, lame, mute, deaf, the possessed… Zacchaeus has chosen his lot in life – one would bid for the lucrative position of tax collector. He chose wealth over many other things and over many relationships. He is where he is in life by his own choices.

How like Zacchaeus we are! We might not be tax collectors but we do often choose things ahead of our faith. Every time we sin – no matter how big or small – we are choosing self over God. Each time we make something more important than God we are elevating self over God. The choice is not limited to wealth or possessions. We can pursue a host of other things more than we pursue our faith. We chase after status and titles, after accomplishments and success. We can work hard so that others notice us or so that we gain that recognition. Yes, we can struggle with keeping faith the top priority in our life.

Zacchaeus heard Jesus was in town and wanted to see him. Zacchaeus was not looking to be healed or to have an audience with Jesus. He was curious. For Zacchaeus, yes, friends and some acceptance would have been nice. But life was okay. Wealth can make life feel okay. So can titles and recognition, possessions and status. Zacchaeus runs ahead of the crowd and climbs a tree just so he can see Jesus pass by.

As Jesus gets to the place in the road adjacent to Zacchaeus’ tree, he stops, looks up at him, and says, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today”. The curious is captured by the curiosity. Life will never be the same for Zacchaeus. It was never the same for the lepers, the prostitute, … It was never the same for us. In this sense, we too were once like Zacchaeus. We were curious about Jesus and he eventually worked his way into our lives. Who do you know that is curious about or is searching for Jesus? Help them to know him today.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the words to speak today to turn hearts to you. Guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Hands and Feet

Reading: Luke 14: 12-14

Verse 13: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed”.

The list Jesus suggests in Luke 14 is not all-inclusive. Do not think that because you do not know or encounter anyone on this list, that you are off the hook. This is a general list of who was marginalized by society in Jesus’ day. Back then there was no government assistance, no shelters, homes, or places for the blind… Add to this the Jewish understanding of sin causing said ailments and conditions, and these were the people who lived on the fringes, who had to depend on the kindness of strangers to survive.

In my last community there was a sizeable homeless population. There were lots of opportunities to serve a meal, to help out financially or with other donations, to even engage personally. In my early years my involvement was helping to cook and servr a meal at the shelter or giving someone on the street a few dollars. As opportunity arose I began volunteering one afternoon a week at a day center for the homeless and thr economically disadvantaged. This connected me in a new way to those living on the fringes. In turn, I was able to invite someone to lunch instead of just giving them the $5 they were asking for. Maybe that is past your comfort zone, but there is a place to start.

Maybe you do not have homeless persons in your community. But there are certainly opportunities to give to those in need. Perhaps you cannot give monetarily, but we all have time. In my new community there are no homeless people, but there are many struggling financially. For these, help with an electric bill or with a little food or clothing are opportunities for ministry. For those who are gifted accordingly, helping someone to budget and understand money can make a huge difference.

There are many other ways to minister in every community. On Saturdays, during visitation time, folks from church go to the jail and hang out and color with the children whose moms or dads or grandparents are visiting a loved one. Our youth decorate Christmas cookies with the residents of assisted living centers and then make them Valentine’s cards later in the year. There are many ways we can be the hands and feet of Jesus. How can this happen in your community?

Prayer: Lord, help us all to see the opportunities to serve those on the edges. Lead us to be your hands and feet. Show us how to build relationships as we minister to those in need. Amen.


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More Like You

Reading: Acts 9: 16-20

Verse 17: “The Lord… has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit”.

The Bible is full of people willing to suffer for their faith. A long line of prophets walk through the Old Testament and into the New to set the stage for Jesus. Like each prophet before Him that suffered for the word of God, Jesus preaches and heals and ends up being crucified. In the book of Acts, the early church also assumes the role of suffering for the good news of God. They are flogged and beaten and eventually stoned and crucified for sharing the name of Jesus.

In our passage today, Saul suffers a little reverse suffering. He is struck blind by Jesus. He spends three days fasting and praying. In verse 16 we learn that Jesus will reveal to Saul the extent that he will suffer for the name of Jesus. After the revelation and three days are over, Ananias arrives at the house and tells brother Saul, “The Lord… has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit”. Before Saul ever speaks a word in Jesus’ name, he is identified as a brother in Christ. He has been claimed by God. Saul receives his sight and is then baptized. Through the waters of baptism the old Saul is washed away and the new Saul e emerges. We read that he spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. During this time he must have learned the truth about Jesus because he proceeds to begin to preach in Jesus’ name.

The waters of baptism begin Saul’s new life in Christ. The old is washed away and he emerges a new child of God. We too are made children of God through our baptisms. We are marked and welcomed into the family of God as we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For Saul, this is a jumping off point. Baptism is for us as well. It renews who we are at our core and begins our walk if faith. Baptism is just one of the ways that God renews us. For example, each time we confess our sins and receive grace we are made new again through the blood of Jesus.

The suffering endured by the believers is also a way to experience new life. For those who offer the ultimate gift, their lives, they experience new life in eternity. For those who suffer in this present age, we also experience new life. When we give sacrificially or when we suffer persecution or trial because of our faith, we are refined and made more into the image of Christ. Through suffering we become more like Him, bring made new, more in His image, over and over again. We too rejoice because we are growing in our faith and in our likeness to Christ. Each day may we become more like Jesus.

Prayer: God, you draw us closer in so many ways. Each day we are called to take up our cross and to follow Jesus. As I try to walk in His footsteps today, may I become more like Christ. Amen.


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Carriers

Reading: Acts 9: 1-16

Verse 16: “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles…”

Saul has become the face of the enemy for the early church. He has taken on the role of chief persecutor, judge, and executioner. Saul hears the church is starting to grow in Damascus, so he heads there, armed with letters of authority to arrest all the Christians. But on the road to Damascus, Saul meets Jesus. Jesus asks him, “Why do you persecute me”? Saul is struck blind and told to go into Damascus, where he will be told what to do. Saul spends three days fasting and praying.

The Lord also calls upon Ananias. He is a disciple in Damascus who knows Saul’s reputation. Jesus instructs him to go to the house where Saul is staying. There Ananias is to lay hands on Saul to heal him of his blindness. Ananias questions this idea – he knows who Saul is. But the Lord knows who Saul will become. The Lord says to Ananias, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles…”

Ananias is being sent to the enemy. He probably knows some of the people that Saul has arrested or killed. To go to him is risky. To heal him seems like the last thing to do. It calls on Ananias to trust God and to imitate the loving forgiveness of Jesus. It calls on Ananias to allow God to work through him. God has clearly chosen Saul to use for His purposes. Ananias will dutifully obey and go to heal Saul.

God has chosen Saul to be His instrument to carry the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. This is a big audience. The Gentiles are all the non-Jews. This represents almost all of the known world since the Jews are a relatively small group of people. It is a big mission. Saul is tasked with carrying the message to the people. This is different than bringing the message. To bring is to share the message that someone else told you. To carry is to be the message, to live it out with all you are. Saul will carry the good news. He will become so filled with Jesus that he will preach and heal just as Jesus did.

When we consider our role in following the Great Commission to make disciples of all people, are we bringing the message or are we carrying the message? May we be infectious carriers.

Prayer: Fill me with you so that I carry the message of your love and hope and healing to all I meet today. 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.