pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Radical Hospitality

Reading: Genesis 18: 1-8

Verse 2: “When he saw them, he hurried… to meet them and bowed low to the ground”.

The church service has run long again and there won’t be much time before the next mini- congregation enters the sanctuary for their time of worship. You know from past similar experiences that the line will now be extra long at your favorite brunch spot. And your tummy is already growling. When the pastor finally says the last “Amen” you are ready to bolt for the exit. It is then that you spot that new young couple you saw moving in a couple houses down your street.

As Abraham stood at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day, he was probably weighing a little nap versus going back out there in the hot sun. It was then that he saw three men standing nearby. Instead of a quick wave on the way to ducking into his tent, we read that this was his response: “When he saw them, he hurried… to meet them and bowed low to the ground”. Abraham welcomed them into his presence and extended generous hospitality. He asks them to stay, bringing water to wash their feet. He invites them to rest in the shade of the tree while having the finest bread and tenderest calf prepared. When this is ready, he serves it with milk and curds. Abraham offers the best that he has to these three strangers.

Would you pretend that you did not see the young couple and rush off to brunch with the regulars? Would you wave and point at your watch, adding a little shrug as you head the other way? Or would you make your way over to them, introduce yourself, and welcome them to the neighborhood and hopefully to the church? Would you, like Abraham, go the extra step to offer them some choice food and drink, extending an invitation to begin a relationship?

As we will see as we continue to read tomorrow, when and perhaps because Abraham extended radical hospitality, he experiences the divine. As we make the choice to offer radical hospitality, maybe we too will experience the power and might of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. May it be so for our churches and for each of us as well.

Prayer: Holy Lord, lead me today to be like Abraham, choosing to offer all of myself to others today. May I give the very best that I can. Meet me in that space, O Lord. Amen.


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Burning Hearts

Reading: Luke 24: 28-35

Verse 32: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us”?

On the road to Emmaus Jesus meets and walks with two of his disciples. He meets them where they are at emotionally and spiritually and he makes himself known – first through the scriptures and then in person. Often this is the way that Jesus continues to work in our world. For me, Jesus was first known intellectually. I learned the stories as a child and then, as a teenager, came to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is the common path to Jesus.

In our passage from Luke 24 we learn some things about Jesus. First, he meets us where we are at. The two disciples were confused and unsure of recent events; they were not clear on all that the scriptures said about the Messiah. Second, Jesus addresses their needs. He explains the scriptures to them. Jesus is also willing to accept their invitation, filling their need for relationship. Third, Jesus reveals himself in meaningful ways when we are ready to receive him. The two disciples had been prepped to know Jesus in a new and deeper way. In the breaking of the bread Jesus opened their eyes. Immediately they asked one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us”? The passage closes with our fourth learning. Our personal encounters with the risen Lord prepare us to go forth to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. The two return to Jerusalem to tell the others that Jesus is alive.

Today, as Jesus burns within our hearts, may we too be witnesses to all that Jesus Christ has done in our lives, helping others to know him and to believe. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, walk with me today, helping me to know you more and more. Pour out your Spirit upon me, leading me deeper into relationship with you. Amen.


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Walking Closer

Reading: Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

Verse 26:14 – “And while they were eating, he said, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me'”.

Jesus has been in ministry for three years. All of the men who sit around the table with him have been with Jesus for those three years – hearing the teachings, seeing the miracles, observing his example. It is hard to imagine any of these twelve men turning on Jesus. They have gathered to celebrate the Passover, an ancient tradition in the Jewish faith. On this sacred night when they remember and celebrate God’s mighty saving acts that led the Israelites to freedom, Jesus will be arrested, tried, and beaten. As they share the Passover meal, Jesus shares these words: “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me”.

It amazes me that Jesus could share this sacred and special time of faith and fellowship with the one who betrayed him. It is hard for me to even see someone who has betrayed me, never mind to sit and share a meal with them. It is hard to be kind and pleasant to one who has turned on me, never mind serving them the bread and cup. In passages like these I see face to face with my reality: I have a long ways to go in my walk with Jesus.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry today, we are on the edge of Holy Week. On Thursday we will again come face to face with this story and then with the crucifixion on Good Friday. Events along this week’s journey will again serve to remind me of my love of Jesus as well as of my areas of needed growth. I can envision what it would look and feel and be like to fellowship with my Judases and to offer them the Lord’s Supper. As I walk the road to Calvary with Jesus this week, may I come nearer to the place of loving those who harm and hurt me and those I love. As I follow in Jesus’ footsteps, may I come one day to walk in them.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for where I am in my journey of faith. I am grateful for my place in your family and for the walk so far. I know I am not what I was, but can also see that I have far to go. Lead and guide me to follow closer and closer, day by day. Amen.


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Produce Fruit

Reading: Matthew 3: 7-12

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.

Many people were coming out into the wilderness to see John the Baptist. It was your typical Sunday morning crowd this day in Matthew 3. Many came to hear John’s call to repentance and to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan River, symbolizing being made clean. Some came to support those making a choice to seek a new life. They had walked the narrow road since coming to see John themselves. Some came because they thought they should. Their minds were on a million other things and their hearts were even further from faith in God. But this day, some came to see the show. They would gather later, to ridicule it within the safety of their little circle.

This day the usual preaching and baptizing comes to a screeching halt as John yells out, “You brood of vipers”! I bet you could have heard a pin drop. He asks them who warned them to “flee from the coming wrath”? He is calling them out for coming to the river and then returning to their unrepentant lives later that afternoon. The Pharisees and Sadducees do not even think about stepping into the river. Why would they?

This would be like our communion stewards going to someone who remained in the pew instead of coming forward and being told, “No thanks. I’m good – haven’t sinned since I took communion last month”. We may be taken aback by such a thought, but there will be folks who move with the crowd, who take communion and just go through the motions. They will move through the line, they will take the bread and the juice, without ever searching their hearts, without ever seeking to repent of their sins. They will go through the motions planning on returning to life as it was.

John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. Live lives that look like you have repented of your sins. Live lives that look like you love God and neighbor more than you love yourself. Don’t just appear to love God and neighbor. Really love them in concrete and practical ways. Love God and neighbor in ways that make them feel loved by you.

John proclaims that one day Jesus will “gather his wheat into the barn”. Live lives worthy of being gathered into Jesus’ barn. Produce fruit that builds the kingdom of God both in your heart and in the hearts of others.

Prayer: Lord, show me today how to love you more and to love others more. Convict me when I fall short of what you call me to. Guide me by your Holy Spirit to be your love in the world today. Amen.


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Provider and Defender

Reading: Psalm 81: 15-16

Verse 16: “You would be fed with the finest wheat; with honey from the rock”.

Most of Psalm 81 laments Israel’s most recent choice to worship idols instead of the God who did so much for them. In today’s passage, the last two verses of the Psalm, we hear the “if only” of the writing. The enemies of Israel would cringe and receive punishment and the Israelites “would be fed with the finest wheat; with honey from the rock” if only the people would turn again to the Lord their God.

The Promised Land has always been that special place set aside for God’s people. Ever since Abraham received the promise, it has been seen as the “land flowing with milk and honey”. As the Israelites finally entered it at the end of the exodus, there was an abundance of crops and resources that simply became theirs to reap and harvest. The land could not have been any better for a people who had been roaming the desert for forty years.

The bounty of the land is just one symbolic way that shows God’s love for the Israelites. God’s offer to protect them from their enemies is one more example of God’s love and care. Many years later, when Jesus taught the disciples to pray, these two ideas were included. Jesus taught to ask God to “give us this day our daily bread”. This reminds us that God is our provider. Later on in the prayer we pray, “and keep us from temptation”. Keep Satan, our biggest enemy, from us, O God. This reminds us that God is our defender.

We, like the Israelites, have our times when we wander off from God. Although it could be for forty years, let’s hope not. No matter how long it is or how quickly we seek to return to God, God is always there, always quick to grant mercy and to extend forgiveness. Some things never change – God still desires a personal relationship with each of us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord God, for being my provider and my defender. In all that life and the evil one brings, you are my only hope. Thank you for walking every day with me. You’re an awesome God! Amen.


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Fill Us, O Lord

Reading: Psalm 81: 1 and 10-16

Verses 11-12: “My people would not listen to me… so I gave them over to their stubborn hearts”.

Today’s Psalm is typical of Israel’s relationship with God. Our relationships today mirror this Psalm as well. Some things never change. In verse one we read of the joy Israel finds when God is their strength. The people sing with joy to their God. Throughout our faith journey we certainly have many experiences with God’s strength. If only all of our faith journey were here!

Jumping down to verse ten, we again see God desiring to fill the people up – both physically and spiritually. God wants to bless the people, to be their strength. This remains the case. God desires to be our God and to fill us up. This does not mean giving us a million dollars and a fancy house, but to give us our “daily bread” and to lead us to live a content and joyous life. Again, if only all of our faith journey were here!

Because God is not the only one in the relationship, we get verses eleven and twelve. Here we read, “My people would not listen to me… so I gave them over to their stubborn hearts”. It is part of the repeating cycle that seems to fill the Old Testament and fills our lives today. The journey begins by walking with God. Then sin leads us astray. There is a consequence to our sin. Repentance and forgiveness complete the cycle. Often the consequence of our sin is separation from God followed by the conviction of the Holy Spirit that leads us back. Sometimes there are real life consequences to our sin too. Our God allows us to freely choose to follow our stubborn hearts too. God hates sin but will not force us to love God or to follow like robots. Each time the cycle is repeated is another reminder of God’s redeeming love. In general, as we mature in faith, the cycle lengthens out. There are more good and faithful days walking with God in between our times of sin. We never quit sinning. Satan never gives up. Neither does God.

This Psalm closes with God’s longing to once again subdue the enemies and to fill God’s children with the finest wheat and the sweetest honey. This continues to be God’s desire. May we lay aside every sin that entangles and drink deeply of all the Lord offers. God will fill us with our daily bread and with joy and peace and strength and contentment and… All the desires of our hearts. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, pour out all of you into my life today. Fill my heart and mind with your word and your ways. Fill my soul with your peace and strength today. Guide me to ever walk with you. Amen.


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Ask, Seek, Knock

Reading: Luke 11: 5-13

Verse 9: “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you”.

When we pray, we enter into intimate connection to God. Whether we are praying the Lord’s Prayer or coming to God at midnight with a desperate plea, connection builds the relationship. In the first story today, the man gets his bread. He did not receive the bread because he asked a friend once, but because he was persistent. He kept asking until he got the response he needed.

In verse 9 Jesus continues the persistence theme by saying, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you”. Unlike the neighbor who responds to alleviate the awkward situation, God responds simply because we ask. God responds because God loves us deeply. Because of the depth of God’s love, God responds with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the indwelling, personal presence of Jesus Christ in the life of a believer. There is no better gift in this life.

In Luke 11 we are reminded of how well an earthly father cares for and provides for his children. Whenever possible, parents want to give all they can to their children. They even want to meet their requests. Asking for bread yields bread, not a stone… Jesus then reminds us then how much more we can expect from God when we go to God in prayer.

If we connect back to yesterday’s reading, to the Lord’s Prayer, we see a God who wants to provide for our daily needs, who offers restoration to our relationships when they are harmed by sin, who desires to live in connection with persistent prayer warriors, and who longs for us to ask, seek, and knock.

When we ask the Holy Spirit – whether for guidance or direction or provision – the Holy Spirit will give. When we seek the Holy Spirit – whether for wisdom or understanding or insight – the Holy Spirit help us find. When we knock because we are feeling lost or separated or confused or… then the Holy Spirit will open doors for us. The power of the Holy Spirit is the living presence of God within us, embodied in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

The intimate relationship we experience with God through the Holy Spirit is a great gift. The presence of the Spirit keeps us rooted in and connected to God. May we be persistent in tapping into that relationship, ever turning to the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, teach me your ways. Attune me to the presence of the Holy Spirit within, opening myself up to all it offers and brings into my life. May your power reign in me. Amen.


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The Prayer

Reading: Luke 11: 1-4

Verse 1: “His disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray'”.

It was after the disciples again observed Jesus praying that one of them said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray”. The disciples wanted to be like the master. Jesus offers what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. While it is surely a prayer it is also guidance for how to live as a disciple in relationship with God and with one another.

The prayer begins by identifying God as our father. It reminds us that God is above us and that God loves us as his children. It also implies a relationship amongst us as fellow children of God. The fact that God is superior is reiterated by recognizing that God’s name, and therefore God, is holy. The prayer then asks that God’s kingdom would come and that God’s will would be done, here on earth too. Yes, we long for the day when God’s kingdom will reign again. Yes, we want to ever place God’s will before our own. In doing so we help to bring God’s kingdom to our world.

In verse 3 there is a slight shift. The prayer asks God to give us, to forgive us, and to deliver us. This connects to God’s role as father. First, we ask God to provide for our basic needs. If our basic needs are unmet, it is very difficult to focus on anything else beyond this. Second, we seek forgiveness. We need to be made right again with God after we have sinned. The idea of fixing our relationships applies to God as well as to our fellow children of God. We are to offer forgiveness to God just as God offers forgiveness to us. Lastly, we ask God to keep us from temptation and to deliver us from Satan. This last line acknowledges the difficulty of living in the world, where temptation is all around us. It also acknowledges that our only way out of temptation comes from God alone. We cannot win the battle on our own. We need God to deliver us from the times of temptation.

When we pray this prayer, may we pray it slowly and thoughtfully, engaging the meaning and the relationships within. May it be so today for you and for me.

Prayer: Father, thank you for choosing to be in relationship with me. May I live in a way today that brings the relationships with you and with others to a deeper place. Amen.


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All the Time

Reading: Psalm 34:8

Verse 8: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him”.

The pastor or leader calls out, “God is good”! The congregation or group responds with, “All the time”! The one then calls out, “And all the time…” followed by the people’s response: “God is good”! This pattern is usually repeated two or more times, building each time. It is a great reminder of what our passage today is all about.

Our experiences in life teach us this truth if we are walking in faith. Even though the hurt is great in times of loss, when we turn to God we find strength and comfort and peace. God is good to us in our suffering. As we experience other trials, whether big or small, and when we look to God, when we pray to God, when we trust in God, then we again experience that God is good. If we are faithful and we turn to God in our times of need, we know the truth of this verse: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him”.

In communion we literally experience this verse. As the body of Christ, whether two or three are gathered or if it is the whole congregation, when we taste the bread and the juice or wine, we are physically reminded of how good the Lord was and is. When we “do so in remembrance of Jesus” we are blessed spiritually by His presence too as we confess and are made new.

We can also experience this in small but powerful ways. Earlier this week I volunteered in the concession stand at some local basketball games. Towards the end of the night, a young man that I had helped with his math the week before came up to the window with his dad. When he recognized me, he gave me the biggest smile and said hello. This small thing made my day and again reminded me of how good God really is. All the time, God is good!

O God, you are indeed so good. Thank you, Lord! In you I take my refuge time after time. You never fail me. You bless me with your presence and you walk with me. In the bright, sunny, good days sometimes I see you. Help me to see you always. Open my eyes to see you in the days of joy and plenty. You are good, O Lord. Thank you so much. Amen.


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Hard Teaching

Reading: John 6: 56-60

Verse 60: “On hearing it, many of His disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching, who can accept it'”?

The miracles and the healings attracted people to Jesus. The thought of being able to see or to walk brought many. The idea of being freed of a disease or illness or of the demons inside brought others. Jesus’ touch offered wholeness and welcome back into community. The latest miracle involved food and the crowd returns the next day looking for more bread. But this day Jesus offers a different kind of bread.

Jesus reminded them of the manna – the bread that God had sent down from heaven to feed His chosen people in the desert. It offered the people sustenance, but it was just food. Jesus tells them that He too was sent down from heaven by God to feed the people. Jesus parallels himself to the manna in the sense that it must be eaten to receive life. To “eat” Jesus is to take in His teachings, to follow His way of love, to absorb who and what Jesus is so that one receives spiritual life, eternal life.

Many in the crowd struggled with this. Today we read, “On hearing it, many of His disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching, who can accept it'”? Many had just come for some more bread. Some probably just came in search of healing. But this? And this certainly is not the first or last hard teaching that Jesus will give. He speaks the truth and sometimes the truth is hard to hear.

Today some people are just like these in the crowd. They just come when there is a need. They cruise through life until a crisis arises and then Jesus is their best friend. Until the crisis passes. Others discover Jesus and dive into the relationship. But they come to a point where the teaching is hard. They love that thing more than they love Jesus and they walk away.

As followers we too know these struggles. Staying true in our walk with Jesus has its hard moments, when that “hard teaching” hits home and requires something inside to die to self. In those difficult moments may we remember the promise: “he who feeds on this bread will live forever”. May we ever feed on the Word made flesh, ever drawing strength for the journey. Amen.