pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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All

Reading: Romans 10: 8b-13

Verse 12: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him”.

Verse 12 is a pretty amazing statement when one considers who Saul was. As Saul, Paul was raised as an expert in the Law. He was a Pharisee – a person who dedicated his life to carefully following all of the Law. Saul followed the Laws that called for a strict separation between Jew and Gentile. The Jews were the chosen people of God, a group set apart. Gentiles were all non-Jews. This was a large group of people. As the early church began, Saul’s zeal turned upon the Christians, who were Gentiles according to Saul’s world view. Then Saul met Jesus. His heart was changed and his name was too. Paul is the Gentile version of Saul.

All of us are like Saul to some degree. We are raised with and we can learn stereotypes and prejudices or at least thoughts about certain groups, types, or classes of people. For Saul the dividing line was Jew-Gentile. It varies for each of us, but the list is long when put all together: men-women, black-white, American-immigrant, old-young, Republican-Democrat, white-Native American, jock-nerd, Christian-nonbeliever, white collar-blue collar, rural-urban, straight-homosexual, educated-uneducated, progressive-liberal… The list goes on. And on. But no matter who is on our lists, Paul’s truth remains truth because it is God’s truth: “For there is no difference between ____ and ____ – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him”. God created us all and loves us all as His dear children. All does mean all. Anyone we could name. Anyone we could put on the list. All is a pretty inclusive word. God’s love is inclusive.

We each live within God’s extraordinary love. In the Jews’ world at the time of Paul’s writing, the us-them mentality prevented them from sharing God’s love. This same mentality can have the same effect on us today. It should not be so. We read why in verse 13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. Everyone. That’s a big word too. May our love for all people, for everyone, be that big too.

Prayer: Lord of love, when I begin to see things that divide or separate, tear them down. When I begin to see differences, wipe them from my mind and heart. Create in me a pure heart, O God, a heart of love for you and those you love – all people. Amen.


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Be Moved

Reading: Luke 9: 37-43

Verse 43: “They were all amazed at the greatness of God”.

On the mountaintop we get a glimpse of heavenly presence. Maybe this is what it will look like in heaven – each aglow with God’s glory. At times God reveals a little bit of heaven to us. The expression “a little heaven on earth” comes at times when we feel like things just couldn’t be any better. I think that is an accurate thought about heaven. There things just can’t get better.

As Peter, James, and John come down the mountain with Jesus, they re-enter the world. We’ve felt this before too when we have come down off a mountaintop experience. We’ve felt what they feel walking back into the real world. They come down to a large crowd. The crowd has found the other nine and others who follow Jesus, but no Jesus. A man asks the nine to heal his son but they can’t. Maybe the nine are also waiting for Jesus. They feel inadequate without Him there. They want Him to lead. They have seen Jesus heal and they themselves have just returned from being sent out to heal and preach the gospel. It was a successful trip.

We find ourselves here. We have witnessed Jesus at work in our lives and we have had prayers answered. We have shared our faith with others and have made a difference in their lives. We know and believe in Jesus and we know the power and presence that the Holy Spirit has in our lives. We have a tangible connection to God. And yet at times we act like we do not. We suddenly doubt or question or feel like we cannot meet the call or task at hand. We sort of try to act or talk but do so thinking we are alone in our efforts. We mostly want Jesus to show up and do it. Instead of seeking and inviting Jesus into the situation, we wait. It is a step of faith to act in faith, believing that Jesus will be present and will come alongside. It is a step of faith that we are called to take.

The disciples waited for Jesus to come and act. His questions about ‘how long’ clearly indicate His displeasure that they did not act trusting in the power of His name. Because Jesus is love and compassion, He rebukes the evil spirit and heals the boy. It is one more glimpse into who Jesus is. “They were all amazed at the greatness of God”. Amazed is wonderful. Moved to action is better. May we be moved.

Prayer: Dear God, may I be one to step out in faith, trusting that as you have always been there, so will you be: present, with me, for me, by my side, guiding my words and actions. Amen.


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Light and Love

Reading: Isaiah 60: 1-6

Verse 3: “Nations will come to your light, and Kings to the brightness of your dawn”.

As Isaiah writes today’s words, most of Israel remains in exile in Babylon. Some of those have melded into the culture there and will not return to Israel. Exile has become home. A small remnant has returned to rebuild Jerusalem, but they feel like foreigners in a strange land. They are not strong or powerful; they feel weak and helpless. Yet Isaiah reminds them that God is with them.

Sometimes I think this is what many Christians feel like in this post-Christian era. We feel like we are in the minority. Much of the time our beliefs and understandings clash with today’s cultural norms. It feels like we are a small remnant. And often we feel powerless in the world, like strangers in a foreign land.

Isaiah speaks words of hope to Israel. He writes, “The Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you”. Even though they feel powerless and a bit out of place, God’s presence rises over them. Their power is not in arms or swords or thick walls around Jerusalem. Their power is in God’s presence with them.

We too can claim this message from Isaiah. In a world too easily filled with darkness, we too are surrounded by God’s presence. God’s presence in our lives fills us with a light and love that we can share with those we know and encounter who are living in darkness. In a nation where diversity and differences seem to be the priority, God’s light and love offer unity and cooperation. Verse 3 reads, “Nations will come to your light, and Kings to the brightness of your dawn”. As Christians, we know God’s light and love. May we bring that light and love into the broken and dark world, bringing hope and peace. May this verse be our prayer for the day and for the new year that lies just ahead. May our lives and our faith be a blessing to our world.

Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of peace and hope, of light and love. May your light and love shine out brightly every day. May the light and love of Jesus in my heart become a beacon of light to all who are lost and living in darkness. May it be so O God! Amen.


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God’s Presence

Reading: James 2: 14-17

Verse 17: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”.

Our faith rests in our relationship with God. As our journey begins, we first sense God’s presence in the world and in those around us. Then we come to a point where we realize that we too can have a relationship with God. Our faith journey leads us to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, as our hope, and as our salvation. We realize that grace is big enough for even our sins and we commit our lives to faith in Jesus’ saving power. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our heart and we live from then on with Jesus’ presence within us, leading and guiding our continuing journey. Others begin to sense God’s presence in us.

Each day we will encounter others who do not have faith. Like we once did, they too can sense God’s presence. And here is the crucial moment, the time that really matters, the litmus test of our faith. As we encounter the lost, do we just offer to pray for them and maybe give them a Bible, really keeping our faith to ourselves? Or do we allow the words to become actions, walking alongside them, guiding them through the next steps of faith? As we encounter the needy, do we do like the man in our passage, simply wishing them well? Or do we spend time with them, understanding their needs so that we can actually meet them as best as we can, taking advantage of the opportunities to share our faith as they arise? As we encounter the broken and hurting, do we only offer a few words of sympathy or give our condolences? Or do we make the time to be present to them in their grief or pain? Do we bring a needed meal or mow an overgrown lawn? Yes, we have many opportunities and many ways to be both God’s presence and Jesus’ hands and feet in the lives of others.

In our passage today, James asks, “What good is it?” if our faith does not lead to action. What good is it if our faith does not make a positive difference in the world? James plainly states, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”. How true.

Lord God, move me past my comfortable, easy inner faith. Move me outside of my tidy, little, personal relationship with Jesus and out into the real world. Help me to live a real faith that is shared and given to others, leading them to know you and the gift of salvation. Use me today, O Lord. Amen.


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Evildoers and the Poor

Reading: Psalm 14

Verse 6: “Evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge”.

The second half of Psalm 14 speaks of evildoers. These are the folks who will do anything to become more powerful or wealthier. In order for anyone to gain more power or wealth, someone has to have less. What was true in David’s time remains true today.

Verse four speaks of evildoers as people who “devour” God’s people as “men eat bread”. In this verb there is an implication of greed and gluttony. It brings to mind the memory of placing a pizza before a group of teenagers who had been eating backpacking food for a week. The pizza was gone in the blink of an eye and I could see the look of “more?” in their eyes. But the evildoers that David writes of are not seeing “real food” for the first time in a week. They are folks who will eat and eat and eat – not because they are hungry but because they can. The lust for power and money is never satisfied. Getting some just wets the appetite for getting more.

Verse six reads, “Evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge”. For those living in poverty, it is an enending battle to simply stay afloat, nevermind getting ahead. Decisions like buying gas to get to work or buying food for the kids competes with decisions to buy your medication or to pay the electric bill. It is a world of decisions foreign to most of us. These thoughts draw me back to a prayer walk we were on during a mission trip to Racine. A large pile of belongings was soaking up a heavy rain on the curbside. The pastor explained that someone else had been evicted. Among the belongings was a mattress – no box spring or rails or frame. The mattress was all this person could scrape and save for thus far. It was now ruined because they chose another necessity over rent. Yes, there are legitimate reasons to evict someone and, yes, poor decisions could have led to the eviction. The deeper issues that need to be addressed are why the person cannot earn a living wage or find affordable housing.

Where do we fit into this world of evildoers? As Christians, we are called to stand with and for the poor and marginalized. We are called to speak out against low wages and other practices that intentionally and unintentionally keep the poor poor. We are also called to help alleviate suffering wherever we find it by feeding, clothing, visiting, teaching, training… May we each discern both the changes that need to happen and the differences we can each make in our neighborhoods and communities today. May it be so. Amen.


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The “Why”

Reading: Mark 3: 20-30

Verse 20: “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him”.

The big crowd gathered to hear Jesus teach. Our passage tells us that it is, well, so crowded that Jesus cannot eat. There is no room! Mark writes, “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him”. They think that Jesus is not taking care of Himself and they go to have a family intervention. This has gone on long enough! Truth be told, at one time or another, we have found ourselves in this situation. That big project is due tomorrow and we forego sleep and maybe even food. Our mom or spouse or roommate warns us about how we are living. Or maybe we just sneak into the office on a day off to “catch up” – and we get the look we deserve. But sometimes, like Jesus did, we too get a look because of our faith.

Sometimes our choices of faith get us that look. I think that Jesus did not eat because it meant less teaching time. Look at all the people who are here to hear the Word. In a similar way, we encounter people without faith who do not understand us sacrificing something for our faith. They have questions like, “Why would you help pay her electric bill when you know the lights will get shut off next month too”? They wonder why we would spend a week of vacation going on a mission trip instead of going to some resort in the Caribbean. Some even wonder why in the world we would get up early on a Sunday to go sit on some hard pews when we could sleep in on the one day we could. Lots of people wonder why we do this or that for some guy named Jesus who lived two thousand years ago.

When the looks come, how do we react? How do we respond – whether it is family coming to ‘save’ us or whether it is a friend trying to talk some ‘sense’ into us or whether it is an acquaintance questioning the ‘crazy’ choices we are making? I think we begin with the story of how Jesus makes a difference in our life. When we share from the heart what Jesus has and is doing in our life, people begin to get a glimpse of faith and to sense what Jesus offers them as well. Yes, how we live our life tells our faith story. But our words are important too. They fill in the “how” with the “why”. Our words build understanding. So today, may we introduce people to Jesus with our actions and decisions and may we begin to welcome them into a personal relationship with our words. May it be so today.