pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Servant?

Reading: Romans 1: 1-7

Verse 1: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God”.

Paul begins his letter to the Roman church by first identifying himself as a “servant of Jesus Christ”. Pause for a moment and consider what that word really means – servant. In Paul’s time a servant was totally subservient to the master. As such, their whole life was wrapped up in doing things for the master. They would go where told, would do whatever they were told to do. Their own will, desires, wants, thoughts, feelings were rarely considered. Paul sought to be a servant of Jesus Christ.

Today titles are important. Back in Paul’s day family names and birth places were important – Jesus of Nazareth, the sons of Zebedee… These adjectives described someone. Today we are first identified by our occupation. Meeting someone new, the first question is usually ‘What do you do’? When asked, I tell people that I am a Methodist pastor. Our own self-identity is very much wrapped up in what we do. So imagine, for a moment, the reactions and responses I would get if I answered as Paul did, telling others that I am a servant of Jesus Christ. You too can imagine the responses that this answer would draw.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are supposed to be servants of our Lord and King. Jesus himself came to be a humble servant and called us to follow his example. Because we do not first self-identity as a servant of Jesus Christ, there are two truths we must wrestle with. These truths are at the core of why we do not identify this way. Perhaps we are unwilling to really assume this role. We are reluctant to make all of our desires and all of our will subservient to Christ. We are OK with “most”. The second truth is the reality that would come with claiming such a title. To say we are a servant of Jesus implies quite a commitment. In the Advent series at our church we have been talking about what it would mean to be an “altogether Christian”. Such a person is a servant of Jesus Christ. Paul is making a high claim in his title of “servant”. Are we willing to do the same?

Prayer: God, the journey has been one of committing more and more to you and to doing your will. Even then, though, I know I am just “mostly” committed. Help me to move closer to “all in”, closer to loving and serving you with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. May it be so. Lord, may it be so. Amen.


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Each a Beloved Child

Reading: Luke 16: 19-31

Verse 29: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them”.

In our passage today Lazarus is a person in need. He is a person in need of food and medical care. These are his immediate physical needs. If we are willing to go to certain places and to engage certain folks, we can find people like Lazarus – people with basic needs. Food, shelter, clothing, medical care – people in our land of plenty lack many of these basics. The rich man lived in luxury. In ths life, he never once thought about Lazarus and his needs.

Lazarus also had emotional needs. To be ignored, to be passed by every day, creates a sense of isolation. To know others are avoiding you, averting their eyes to not even make eye contact, negatively impacts one’s self-image. It is hurtful and harmful to have one’s need for companionship, compassion, and conversation to go unmet. Lazarus was a man in need of relationship. We all need to belong.

For many years I was like the rich man. I tried to avoid and ignore those struggling with poverty and homelessness. I’d move to try and walk on the other side of the street. I’d look the other way if I couldn’t avoid the person. I allowed a gap to exist between myself and those who were not like me. In terms of sharing my faith, I thought, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them”. They can read the Bible. They can come to church if they want to know about Jesus. How wrong I was.

Then one day I met Dee and Joel. Soon I met Pat and Rob and Georgia and… I got to know a few who were like Lazarus – people who were like me in so many ways. They all had a story to tell. They all had moms and dads and many had children. We had so much in common. Most of all, I learned that they too were each a beloved child of God. We became friends. It was from this place that not only physical and emotional needs could be addressed, but spiritual needs as well. Once we were friends, Moses and the prophets and Jesus could become part of the conversation.

Those living without Jesus don’t have to end up like the rich man. They can, but they don’t have to. May we each be willing to step across those barriers, real and imagined, to engage our fellow children of God, sharing our hope and Jesus’ love with them.

Prayer: God, thank you for continuing to work on me. Thank you for opening my eyes and my heart to those is need. Continue to lead and guide me to be Jesus’ hands and feet, to speak your word, to meet needs as I can, to be a light shining in the world. Amen.


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Worship God

Reading: Hebrews 12: 25-29

Verse 28: “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God”.

Today’s verses talk about what can be shaken and what cannot be shaken. In verse 26 we are drawn back to the crucifixion and death of Jesus, when the whole earth trembled and the veil was torn in two. These two events signaled the fact that no ordinary man had died. When the tomb was empty on the third day, it confirmed that Jesus was the Messiah. In this same verse we are reminded that “once more” the earth will be shaken but this time heaven will also be shaken. Christ’s second coming will usher in a new era when all will be made holy and eternal.

In our world as we know it, much can be shaken. The physical world can be shaken – earthquakes and violent storms shake the earth itself as well as the structures we build upon it. We can also be shaken emotionally and spiritually. In times of distress at work, for example, our self-confidence and sense of security can be shaken. When we experience unexpected loss, our very being can be shaken to the core. In both of these examples and in many more experiences, our faith and trust in God can be shaken. Here I return to verse 25: “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks”. When we are feeling shaken, it is then that we need to really listen to the voice of Jesus, to the Holy Spirit, to allow his peace and strength and comfort and… to fill us up.

Chapter twelve closes with a promise. In verse 28 we read, “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God”. One day Jesus Christ will return. All will be made new again. The new heaven and earth will never be shaken. It will not be shaken because we will constantly be in the Lord’s presence. Until then? Worship God. Worship acceptably and with reverence and awe. Worship the one who cannot be shaken with our whole lives – with all we do and say and think. May we worship with all we are, bringing glory to our God and King.

Prayer: Lord, you are the solid rock upon which we stand. At times, though, our legs get a little wobbly and our feet can start to shuffle a bit. In those times, speak loud and clear. Give us ears to hear the Holy Spirit telling us we are loved, we are cared for, we are your children. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Trust in God, Our Salvation

Reading: Isaiah 12: 2-6

Verse 2: “Surely God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid”.

Life can bring us all kinds of ups and downs. In the midst of Advent and the holiday season, even then, “life” affects us. In church yesterday, on the second Sunday of Advent, we had two prayer cards for families who lost loved ones, one for a surgery, one for a man who had to place his wife in an Alzheimer’s unit, and one for a grandson. It felt like a lot. Yet for each of these families affected, it feels much more profound and impactful.

As I read and reflected on today’s passage, I realized that Isaiah’s audience must have felt some big emotions too. As Isaiah spoke these words to the people, the powerful empire of Assyria was bearing down on their part of the world. In what felt like a tide sweeping across the earth, the Israelites were awaiting the first waves. As what surely felt like impending doom crept closer and closer, Isaiah offers these words of hope: “Surely God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid”. Yes, folks, trouble is on the way. But God is greater. Isaiah’s message to Israel is the same message to us: trust in God.

For those feeling sadness or loss or even uncertainty during this time of the year, this is an important message to hear: trust in God. Trust that God will lead you through, and He will. Trust that God will bring you the strength that you need, and He will. Trust that God will give you discernment and will bless your decisions, and He will. God is surely your salvation.

Isaiah closes our passage for today encouraging us to “shout aloud and sing for joy”. He is encouraging the people and us to celebrate God’s faithfulness in the past. In doing so we are strengthened for the day today. To all who are hurting or worried or struggling this Advent season, remember, God loves you, God is trustworthy, God is your salvation. Trust in God. Amen.

Prayer: Lord, I pray for those who are down, those who are blue, those who need your loving presence, your hope, your grace. Please be present to them, O God of our salvation. Thank you. Amen.


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Deep Need

Reading: 1 Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 10: “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord”.

Yes, Elkanah loved Hannah more than anything in the world. Yes, Elkanah treated Hannah much better than his other wife. But shame of shames – Hannah could bear him no children. The second wife, Peninnah, had lots of children. Peninnah frequently reminded Hannah of this fact. This only added to Hannah’s already deep sadness and bitterness. Each year when the family would go up to the temple to worship, Hannah would bring her situation before God.

This particular year the provoking by Peninnah and the deep sadness over her barren state seemed especially painful. Instead of simply praying once more, we read, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord”. Hannah felt like she was at the end of her rope. It was not an ordinary prayer that she offered up to God. The Spirit was moving in her as she poured out her soul. This was a deep, gut-wrenching prayer. It was as ripe with emotion as it could get.

We too have uttered this type of prayer. We too have been at the end of our rope and have cried out to God. We too have been at the bottom of our pit and have begged for God to reach down and pull us out. We too have felt so desperate that the prayer just poured out from the core of our souls. Our circumstances or the cause of our situation may have been different, but we have all prayed like this before.

What does Hannah’s prayer reveal? What do our prayers of deep emotion reveal? First, they reveal our utter dependence on God. Sometimes we are weak, unable to alter the situation. But God can. Second, they reveal a trust in God not only to hear but to respond. He alone can rescue. He alone can save. God is faithful to Hannah. Samuel is born. God will be faithful to us as well. May we pour out our souls in those times of deep need, trusting in God to do what we cannot.

Prayer: God, thank you for the reminder today of your deep, deep love for us, your children. Like Hannah, may I always seek you in my deepest times of need, trusting in you and in your plan for my life. Amen.


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A Faith Still There

Reading: Mark 10: 46-52

Verse 46: “As Jesus and His disciples… were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus, was sitting by the roadside begging”.

As Jesus is beginning His last journey to Jerusalem, He encounters a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. In Jesus’ day, the term ‘blind beggar’ would maybe seem redundant. Almost all who were blind or lame or deaf or otherwise disabled had to beg to survive. There were no social services in Jewish society, no places that cared for those with a disability. Yes, the Jews had a place in their hearts for the orphan and the widow, but not for people like Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus’ life would be lonely and hard. His blindness would carry the stigma of sin and, with that, he would be shunned and ignored. Life would be lived on the fringes of society, survival dependant on what folks who passed by on the street would give to this man. The regular passersby would quickly grow accustomed to the man always there begging. These people would quickly become like the many in cities today who walk right past the homeless as if they were not even there. After a while the emotional weight of this would be greater that the affects of the physical disability itself.

When people are ignored, intentionally passed by, it affects how they feel inside. Questions of worth begin to mount. Anger against those who just pass by builds. It would be easy to question God and to become bitter towards God. It would’ve been understandable for Bartimaeus to disconnect from God. But he does not. His faith is still there. And Jesus is on the way.

Lord, help me to see those on the fringes. Continue to create in me a heart that sees and responds. Build up the Holy Spirit in me so that the voice is loud and the nudge is strong. Give me a soul that cares as you care, that loves as you love. Amen.


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I am There

Reading: Psalm 22: 1-15

Verse 11: “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help”.

Psalm 22 is full of emotion. David is struggling and he is honest with God about it. This Psalm of Lament almost makes us feel uncomfortable as we read it. Our culture is one of self-reliance and putting on a good face, no matter what the challenge and no matter what is going on inside of us. To feel the honest emotions and to utter the deep cry within us is something we have all experienced. But it is another thing to hear it. Imagine the reaction if your pastor or someone in the congregation uttered such a prayer this weekend in church.

In our Psalm today David expresses things we all have felt. He asks the “where are you God?” questions. He recalls the times that God has been there for others who called out and were answered. To this he asks, “why not me too”? And he reminds God that he has been a faithful follower since birth – “isn’t that worth something God”? These are all questions we want to scream at God from time to time. We surely do in our inner being at times. The Psalm tells us we can do this out loud, in the assembly of believers, in the place where others can join in our prayers and in our suffering.

In verse 11 David writes, “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help”. Yes, we too feel this way at times. And, yes, we can remain isolated in our hurt. Or we can be honest and open with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can trust in the power of community that God created us to live in. We can lay our burdens amongst the believers so that we do not journey alone. When the fires rage and the storms rise, may we come to one another for companionship in the valley. “For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:20).

Lord, help me to be open and honest with my fellow believers. Help me to be transparent, sharing my struggles and trials so that I do not want alone. Joining together, we experience your presence too. Grant me the courage and humility to be vulnerable. May it be so. Amen.