pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Choose to Fast

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…”

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent. Lent is a 40-day journey that focuses on self-reflection, fasting, and prayer. The 40 days comes from Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. During Jesus’ time in the wilderness, He focused on these three practices. For Him it was a season of preparation to begin His ministry. Lent is a season of preparation for us. During Lent, the 40 days do not include Sundays – they are holy days set aside for worship. At the end if Lent we arrive on April 21 at Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 58, our passage for today, focuses on fasting and the effect that it should have. To be honest, fasting has become a little-practiced spiritual discipline. Traditionally fasting was a practice that led to prayer, study, and self-reflection. It was also practiced at critical decision points. Esther’s fast in chapter 14, verses 15 and 16, comes to mind. In general terms, abstaining from food should lead one closer to God. The meal time and the periods of hunger would be spent in study and prayer and reflection, drawing one closer to God. The physical hunger reminds one of our spiritual hunger for God. During Lent, some practice a fast and focus on self-reflection, introspection, confession, and repentance. Today many churches will use Psalm 51:10 to begin Lent as ashes are placed on foreheads. It reads, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.

Today many people chose to fast from an item or habit. People give up chocolate or pop or TV or social media. When the desire for this arises, it leads one to prayer, study, and self-reflection. Others choose to add something during Lent – a Bible study or a daily devotional or guided prayer. The goal is the same: to draw closer to God through self-reflection and repentance. Whatever fast you choose, this remains the goal. Fasting should lead to a positive change of heart and soul. This is what Isaiah is talking about.

Verse 6 opens with this line: “Is not this kind of fasting I have chosen…”. Fasting creates the heart of God in us – a heart filled with compassion for others. A more Christ-like heart leads us to speak up against injustice and for the oppressed and to share our food and shelter and clothing with those in need. It does not allow us to turn away from our brothers and sisters in the world. This is the impact of fasting that is pleasing to God. It leads to a pure heart that loves without conditions. It leads to a steadfast heart that walks out Jesus’ love every day with every person without limits.

Fasting connects us to God. It changes us and makes us more like Him. Then our “light will break forth like the dawn” and “you will call and the Lord will answer”. When we cry out, God will say, “Here I am”. This Lenten season, may we choose to fast, to come closer to the heart of God, to better know and serve our fellow travelers in the world.

Prayer: Lord, in this holy season, may my heart focus in on you and on the changes you seek to make within me. May my fast bring me closer to you and to those I meet in the world. Amen.


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Call Your Good Friend

Reading: Psalm 91: 2 and 9-16

Verse 14: “Because he loves me”, says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name”.

Our Psalm today reminds us of God’s constant presence with us. This Psalm and others like it always draw to my mind the poem, “Footsteps in the Sand”. There are two sets of footprints as a man looks back through most of his life. But in difficult times, he sees just one set of footprints. He asks why God would abandon him when life got hard. God replies that He did not leave the man, but carried him. Thus, one set of footprints. The psalmist speaks of God in this way, calling God our refuge and our fortress.

We will all have times of trial and testing, times when we too feel as if God is not present. It may be the loss of a job, a loved one, or a close friend. It may be caused by an illness or a relationship that is difficult but necessary. We might feel alone, but God is present. We just need to call out to God in prayer. We need to seek God out at times – not to bring God back, but to remind ourselves of God’s constant presence. And God will carry us too if we need that.

No one seeks out bad times or suffering, but both are a part of life. What sustains us most in these moments is the faith we practice in the relatively good days of life. When we walk daily with God, spending time in the Bible, in prayer, in conversation with God, then God feels like a close friend.

When trial or pain strikes, it is more natural to turn to our close friend. From our daily time with God we build a reservoir of faith and trust that we can draw on and from in the moments when life is hard. In the moment of need, it is easier to call upon a close friend. When we do, God is right there, very present to us.

Verse 14 reads, “Because he loves me”, says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name”. Yes, God will rescue us and protect us and answer us and deliver us. God loves each of us dearly. Therefore we do not need to be afraid. God is with us. Call upon God, our strength, our refuge, our fortress.

Prayer: Lord, may I know you more and more each day. May each day bring me closer to you. May I be sensitive to the indwelling presence of the Spirit. In the good and the bad, may you be my first call. Amen.


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Through God’s Mercy

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 1-2

Verse 1: “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart”.

The call of every church and of every Christian is to be in mission. The main mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are called to bring all people to Christ and to walk together as we each deepen our relationship with Jesus. For most people, the call is answered one person at a time through a one-on-one relationship that is formed and cultivated and is given time and attention. These relationships may come through a specific ministry – a feeding program or a diaper ministry – or they can come simply by crossing paths with another and engaging in life together. This second mode is how Jesus most often operated.

Even though all are called, many question or are hesitant. Some feel like their past disqualifies them. Our past is often one of our best resources. Those struggles that we have overcome offer hope and possibilities to the one still in the struggle. Our story is what makes our faith and our relationship with Jesus real to another. Others think that they do not know enough or that they lack the skills or talents to accomplish something for God. God places skills or gifts or talents in all of us. They do not need to be perfected or polished. God just needs us to be willing to step out in faith and to trust in God to do the rest. If we seek it, the Holy Spirit will lead and guide us in all things.

The author of our text today is just one of many, many imperfect and flawed people that God used to build the kingdom and the church. One does not have to turn too many pages in the Bible to find the next one in a long line of ordinary, regular folks who did extraordinary and wonderful things for God. Paul began life as Saul. He hated the church and did everything he could to stomp it out. Talk about an unlikely candidate to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the world! In a display of mercy and love, Christ called him Paul and set him loose on the world. Who Saul was became forgotten as the new creation Paul began to serve the Lord in faith.

This unlikely servant writes, “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart”. God chose him. God set his ministry in motion. Therefore, Paul does not lose heart. God chose you and me too. Therefore, may we each step up and out today in ministry to the world, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit, knowing that the Lord goes with us, guarding our heart. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, prepare my heart and mind to be in ministry today. May the Spirit lead and guide me in all I do and say and think, ever seeking to build your kingdom here. Amen.


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The Catch

Reading: Luke 5: 1-7

Verse 4: “Put out into deep water, and let down your nets for a catch”.

Our passage begins with the words, “One day…”. The words sound so casual, so happenstance. Jesus is there by that lake that day because that is the day and place that He is going to call His first disciples. Jesus could have been many places that day. As Jesus is teaching the crowds build. He steps into a boat. There were two boats. Jesus steps into Simon Peter’s boat and asks Simon Peter to put out a bit. The boat was empty, just like the second boat. In putting out, Peter had to join Jesus in the boat.

Jesus finishes teaching and asks Simon Peter, “Put out into deep water, and let down your nets for a catch”. He asks His captive audience to do something that is probably the last thing on his mind. Peter does call Jesus “Master”, showing some recognition of who Jesus is said to be. But Peter is tired and just wants to go home. Yet Peter chooses to honor the request that Jesus has made of him.

In the request, Jesus has told Peter what is going to happen. Jesus says, “for a catch”. He knows how many fish will swim into Peter’s nets. Jesus is not in that boat with that man by happenstance. He is about to do a miracle that will change a man’s life forever. It is something that we see Jesus do often in His ministry. But often the role is reversed. The blind man calls out to Jesus for sight. The lepers cry out to Jesus to be healed and made clean. The friends bring the lame man to Jesus. Today Jesus is the seeker. Today Jesus is the one calling out.

Some of us have perhaps sought Jesus – in the midst of a devastating loss we turned to Him. Or in the depth of a life-threatening illness, we cried out to Jesus. But most of us were like Peter, aware of who Jesus was, heard a few of the stories. But just going through life. And then suddenly Jesus is there and He climbs in our boat. Almost unexpectedly we meet Jesus up close and personal. We did not see it coming, but we cannot deny the relationship that has suddenly burst to life.

The miracle that Jesus offers is amazing. It is not just a catch – a few fish for lunch. It is not just a good catch – enough to sell and earn some wages. The catch is enormous. It was so big that Peter needed help containing it. It is like when Jesus catches us – we are filled with Him to overflowing and we just want others to know of this Jesus that called us to new life. We want to share this amazing thing that has happened in our lives. Can you remember that day, that season?

Connect to the day that you were the catch. Recall the emotion. Recapture the energy and the passion. Then go out and tell the story of how Jesus caught you over and over.

Prayer: Lord, rekindle that fire within me today. May I again be so filled with you that you overflow. May I tell the story of your love and power in my life today and every day. 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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Here I Am!

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse 5: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”.

As our passage opens, Isaiah finds himself in God’s presence. God is seated on the throne and seraphs are above God. These 6-winged creatures are calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory”. To add emphasis to this powerful scene, the building shakes and smoke fills the space. I cannot imagine all of what Isaiah felt in those moments – awe, terror, pure joy, amazement? It is a scene of absolute power and might.

There, in that moment, Isaiah realizes how out of place he is. He finds himself in the presence of God and all of heaven. He realizes how unworthy he is to be there. Isaiah utters this confession: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”. But instead of condemning him or removing him instantly, God sends a seraph to Isaiah with a burning coal in the tongs. With the coal, the seraph touches Isaiah’s unclean lips and takes away his guilt and atones for his sin. God redeems Isaiah. God prepares Isaiah for what comes next: hearing God’s call.

At times we experience God’s presence. Sometimes it is in the church – sometimes on a Sunday morning in worship, sometimes on a Tuesday afternoon in the stillness. Sometimes it is in the hospital – maybe with parents who have just brought a new life into the world, maybe with a family as they say goodbye and send a loved one on to their new life with God. We can and do experience God in many ways and in many settings. In some if these moments, we too can feel a little of what Isaiah felt – overwhelmed and in awe at the holy privilege that we are part of. I always feel blessed and am humbled by the experience. Once in a while, I can relate to Isaiah’s feeling of being unworthy to be in God’s holy presence that has settled on that place or situation. Yet God remains present to me as well.

No seraph comes with a hot coal, but the Holy Spirit surely leads and guides, assuring me of what I am a part of. Whether the prompting is to offer a scripture or a prayer or just to be present or maybe to give a hug, as the Spirit leads, I say in my heart as Isaiah said with his lips, “Here I am. Send me!”

When we accept our place in God’s presence and we allow God to work in and through us, the power of the Holy Spirit takes charge. When we find ourselves with an opportunity to be sent, to be in partnership with the Holy Spirit, may we trust fully in God’s call, joyously saying, “Here I am. Send me!”

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart, encourage my mind and spirit today so that I may faithfully respond to each call you give. Amen.