pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God’s Call

Reading: Jeremiah 1: 4-10

Verse 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”.

Today we hear God’s call on a young Jeremiah. It is a call to be a prophet to the people of God. Jeremiah is living in a time right before and into when Jerusalem falls and the people are carried off into exile. The people’s unfaithfulness leads to being conquered and taken into exile. It is into this situation that God calls Jeremiah. The call begins with these words: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”. In these words we clearly hear that God has long had a plan for Jeremiah. Even before his body began to form in the womb, God knew him and had identified him as a prophet. That is a powerful call.

Jeremiah immediately tries to avoid the call. How like Jeremiah we all are! Jeremiah tries to put up two barriers to serving. He does not know how to speak and he is just a child. We too can quickly come up with reasons. We tend to do this much more quickly than we say ‘yes Lord’. Whether the call is a momentary call, like helping out a neighbor one afternoon, or if it is a call to full-time ministry, we too can find lots of reasons to not answer the call. Many times I have not stopped to help or engage someone the Spirit is prompting me to serve. I’m too busy, there is something more pressing… The reasons come so easy. Often I have chosen not to give when I could have or to volunteer when when I had both the time and the ability.

When I began to feel the call to leave teaching to become a pastor, the decision was hard to make. It required trust in God and it took a step of faith. God kept working on me, gradually leading me to take the step. After we made the decision, my wife and I told our three children. The oldest, then in college, simply said, “It’s about time”. It was one more reminder that, like Jeremiah, God knew me and had appointed me to serve his church.

Each of us hears God’s call upon our lives over and over. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ invites each of us into ministry with him. Whether as a pastor or school teacher or business person or coach or retired person or… God calls us all and leads us all into service. In whatever way God has created and equipped us, we are all called to follow Jesus’ commission to “go and make disciples of all people”. May we each answer the call today.

Prayer: God, thank you for where you have called me. The road is not always easy, the task is often challenging. Yet thank you for where you have planted me. I know you walk with me. Help me each day to be faithful in the small things that build up your kingdom here. Lead and guide me. Amen.

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Led by Compassion

Reading: Luke 10: 29-37

Verse 36: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers”?

Traditions and stereotypes are great influencers. They are a part of life. Growing up we inherit and learn about the world and people around us from our parents and families. Systems and institutions also influence us as we begin to go to school… These influencers can be good and they can be bad. We can learn to be compassionate and generous, to be honest, to work hard, to be a person of faith. We can learn to be selfish, to take advantage of others, to be prejudiced and biased.

In this familiar parable, the priest and Levite both pass by on the other side of the road. Depending on the influencers that we grew up with, their action can be seen poorly or as acceptable. These two men are also products of the families, groups, and institutions that they grew up in. Most certainly they too felt compassion for the man. Who wouldn’t? But the stronger force was the years and years of training and teaching that said to avoid becoming ceremonially unclean. It would break a law. Life for them was all about their position and living within the guidelines of the law.

I too have been guilty of passing by someone I could have helped. The “law” of ‘don’t be late for work’ has led me to pass by on more than one occasion. The “law” of ‘you have something more important to do, someone else will stop’ has also led me to pass by. Stereotypes and being judgmental have also led me to pass by at times. This parable is so hard because we’ve all walked many times in the shoes of the priest and Levite.

We do not know much about the Samaritan. We do not know if he was rich or poor. We do not know if he was a Godly man or if he worshipped idols. What we do know is that he allowed the compassion that all of us would have felt to become what drove his decisions and actions. He invested both time and money in caring for the one in need. We do not know much about the Samaritan, but we do know that if we were in Jesus’ story, we sure hope we’d stop too. It is a matter of choice. The lawyer knew who the neighbor was. So do we. Jesus encourages the lawyer to “go and do likewise”. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord, you call me to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you. Fill me with compassion for those in need. Lead me to stop and care for those I meet today. Amen.


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Freedom and Wholeness

Reading: Luke 8: 26-38

Verse 27: “When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man”.

Our story today is a story of fear. The demoniac is afraid of what Jesus might do to him and the townspeople are afraid of the same thing. Our story today follows another story of fear. In a raging squall the disciples fear they will die. Jesus is awakened and he calms the storm. He then asks the disciples, “Where is your faith”?

In verse 27 we read, “When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man”. The man is possessed by demons, so we can say he has no faith. Yet the demons recognize Jesus and the power that he has over them. If the man himself were able to speak, he would surely plead with Jesus to free him from this legion of demons. But the man is not in control. He has not been for a long time. Now the demons realize that they are not in control.

We read in our passage that at first the townspeople tried to chain the demon-possessed man hand and foot and kept him under guard. But the chains were broken over and over and then demons drove the man to live in isolation out in the “solitary places” – the tombs outside of town. The townspeople probably really appreciated this, except when they had a burial. Then they would have to once again encounter the demoniac. It is by no coincidence that Jesus goes where the world would rather not go. Jesus meets the man right where he is at, both physically and spiritually.

The demons fear Jesus’ power and rightly so. They do not want to return to the Abyss, so they beg to be sent into the pigs. Rather than return to hell, the demons end their existence by drowning themselves in the lake. Mercifully, Jesus allows this. The man is free. The townspeople find him clean, dressed, and sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening. It is an amazing restoration to wholeness that leads to fear of Jesus, not to engagement or even interest on the part of the townspeople. They ask Jesus to leave.

Sometimes the power of Jesus feels like too much. The Bible is full of these stories. We were once at this point ourselves. Many are there today. The idea of freedom in Christ is a little enticing but the power of wealth or the draw of the addiction or the fear of surrender is too great. We know folks who are struggling to take that step towards Jesus. Unlike the demons in our story, their demon tells them that Jesus has no power, that Jesus cannot make them whole again. May we be willing to cross that “lake”, to go to them where and how they are, to share our Jesus and the story of how he set us free.

Prayer: Lord, give me the courage to go across that lake, to be willing to engage those that others would rather not. Grant me words of healing and hope. Amen.


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Go

Reading: 1 Kings 19: 9b-15

Verse 9b: “What are you doing here”?

Earlier this week I looked at verses 1 through 9a in this same chapter. To review quickly, Elijah angered the queen, fled in fear, and was cared for and guided by God to the cave on Mount Horeb. In the morning, God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here”? This is a question that I think God asks often.

Fear and worry and doubt and job fatigue led Elijah to flee – to hide from the world. I can relate to some of these emotions and to Elijah’s response to them. Once in a great while monastic life seems like a great idea. His loving God leads Elijah to a safe place, to a cave atop a mountain, far away from his enemies and from the world. Until God asks this question, the cave is a comfortable place for Elijah.

When I retreat it is not usually to a cave or to any other physical place. When I do retreat it is usually into myself. In those moments when the world seems against me or when it seems to be closing in, I withdraw emotionally. In my mind I disconnect. I try and create felt distance and separation. But soon enough, God asks, “What are you doing here”?

Elijah has a response. He has been thinking about it. He knows the question is coming. This process is familiar to me too. Elijah tells God that he has been “very zealous for the Lord God Almighty” – I’ve been working really hard for you God. And these people – these Israelites – they have broken the covenant. Why would I want to be with those sinners? And then the ice cream atop the cake – “I am the only one left”. Woe is me. Have you been here? I certainly have.

The God says, in essence, ‘Come here. Come here Elijah’. Elijah goes to the entrance to the cave and the noise of the world passes by. The wind, the earthquake, the fire – those are the threats of Jezebel, the fears of the world, the self-pity. Then Elijah hears a gentle whisper. Ah, God has arrived. It is significant that God comes in the calm, in the quiet.

But once again Elijah tries the “I’ve been so busy…” excuses. God simply says, “Go…”. Return to the world, go where I am sending you. I will be with you. God knows we will stumble and falter too. God says the same thing to us: go, go where I lead. I will be with you. God continues to lead Elijah every step of the way. God will do the same for us. So, go.

Prayer: God, in those moments when I too doubt or fear or feel wrung out, come and push me back out into the world. Use me for what you will. Strengthen and encourage and fill me for the task at hand. Help me to ever step forth in faith. Amen.


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A Plan

Reading: Luke 5: 8-11

Verse 8: “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man”.

Peter, James, and John experience a miracle. In the same lake that they caught absolutely nothing a couple of hours ago, they now catch a huge amount of fish. At the time of day when they don’t usually fish because you usually catch fish at night, they catch a huge amount of fish. In the same nets that they often catch some fish, they have a huge amount of fish. They are astonished.

Simon Peter will always be the one to speak or act out without thinking, without considering the affects or the consequences. It is Peter who voices what James and John must’ve been feeling too. Peter says, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man”. In the presence of holiness, Peter sees himself as unworthy. Standing next to the light, Peter becomes aware of his own darkness. This is what the light does: it reveals what is hidden in the darkness. This is what continues to make people uncomfortable with living a life of faith. The light reveals what must die within us. To follow Jesus we must first look within and admit what must go. We first die to self and then to our sins. These thoughts scared Peter and led him to make his confession: “I am a sinful man”.

Jesus does not see this as a barrier. Yes, it is something that we must get past. Yes, it is something hard. Yes, it requires discipline and effort. But, when we walk with Jesus Christ, our sins are something we can overcome. Jesus had absolute confidence in the fact that He is the path to the Father; that He is the way, the truth, and the life; and, that one can be saved solely by faith in Him alone. Jesus says to Simon Peter, “don’t be afraid”. Jesus knows the life that He offers is the only true life. Yes, stepping out of the darkness and into the light is scary – it reveals our warts and blemishes and our sins. And just as Jesus invites Peter, so too does He invite all people.

Jesus continues, telling Peter, “from now on you will catch men”. Not only does Jesus tell Peter not to be afraid, He also tells Peter that He has a plan for him. And what a plan it is! Peter, James, and John leave all behind that day – all they owned – and followed Jesus.

Jesus has a plan for each of our lives as well. He has a purpose for each of us in His kingdom here on earth. What is Jesus asked me to leave behind so that I can come and follow Him more closely?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, reveal to me that which I must let go of or courageously step into to best follow you. Guide me Jesus. Thank you! Amen.


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Called to Go

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-46

Verse 40: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”.

Today’s passage is an interesting one to begin the new year with. I think it is very appropriate. As we consider our year ahead, our faith should be our first consideration. Our faith calls us to follow Jesus and this passage speaks directly to what that looks like. He is the light and hope and love of the world. Matthew 25 challenges us to be all of these things. It especially calls us to the poor and to the marginalized.

In all of our cities, towns, communities, neighborhoods, and churches, we have folks who are hungry and thirsty – physically and spiritually and emotionally. To these, may we offer sustenance, God’s Word, and support and encouragement. We all have folks around us who are strangers or on the outside looking in. To these may we offer fellowship and belonging. We all know others who are lacking adequate clothing or other necessities. To these may we offer a coat or whatever else we can to meet their needs. We all know folks who are sick or who are incarcerated. To these may we offer our presence and our prayers. We can go and spend time, offering encouragement and the light of Jesus Christ.

For many of us, today is a day off. Who can we take a little time to bless today? Will it be one who is hungry or thirsty? Will it be one who is sick or imprisoned? Will it be one in need? It is to these that we are called to go. In going to these, we meet Jesus in their presence. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”. May we do for Jesus today.

Prayer: Lord, put me where I can see you today. Lead me to those in need, to those on the edges. Amen.


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Some Things

Reading: John 12: 20-26

Verse 23: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed”.

Jesus is speaking of death and life I today’s passage. On one level He is talking about His own physical death that will come on the cross. We hear a hint of emotion in the next verses about what He will soon face, but He also reveals this is why He came. Jesus knows that His death will bring glory to God. He knows this is true in a sense for all who will follow after Him as well.

Jesus speaks of the sacrifice a seed makes, saying, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed”. The seed must be willing to fall into the ground and to give up being a seed for a tree or flower or some other plant to spring up with new life. In turn, the plant will create more seeds which will then produce more plants. Jesus then ties this idea to those who follow Him. Some men, Jesus says, love the things of this world – possessions, power, position… They have no hope. However, the man who ‘hates’ life in this world will find eternal life in the time to come. The implication is that if one hates the things of the flesh, then one will love the things of God. By loving and serving God, one finds eternal life.

When one ties these two ideas together, we come to see that we must allow some things in our lives to die. Those things are the things of the world. As followers of Christ, we follow after Jesus. In doing so, we value the things He valued: loving others, honoring God, giving of oneself, caring for those in need… When we walk this path we die to the pursuit of worldly things. There is simply not room for them when we are filled with Jesus.

This passage closes with this thought: “Where I am, my servant also will be”. Where will we find Jesus today? Will it be in the comfortable and routine of life or will it be in the places we find the marginalized and disadvantaged? May we willingly go where He leads us today.