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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The Foreigners

Reading: 1Kings 8: 41-43

Verses 41-43: “As for the foreigner… who has come from a distant land because of your name… when he comes and prays… then hear from heaven”.

Solomon is making a request that we all want to make. He hopes that God’s name spreads and that people outside of his nation will come to pray to God. His request of God is to hear their prayers so that foreigners know and fear the Lord. I am not sure, but I’d guess Solomon’s hope comes more from the perspective of more people knowing God than from God’s name becoming famous or from enlarging the nation.

In our lives we all want to think that we welcome in the foreigners and strangers amongst us. We want to think that the least, the lost, and the broken, the poor and the fatherless – when they get up the courage to step inside our churches – that they will feel welcomed and loved. We, like Solomon, hope that God hears their prayers and answers them so that a relationship with God begins to form. And then, if they are to come back the next Sunday and seem inclined to become a part our community of faith, then we expect them to be and look and act just like us that next week. So when the foreigner returns next week they still look a lot like a homeless man or an addict or a teenage single parent or… and we realize that this could be messy and hard. The welcome becomes just a little less welcoming.

Yes, in our heart of hearts, we want all people to come to know God and Jesus as Lord and Savior. Yes, we want all people to find a community of faith where they can find fellowship and a place to worship God. We are just not always sure that we want it to be at our nice and tidy church and in our fellowship of perfect sinners. It is difficult to really pray this hope that Solomon expresses for those in our communities who are the foreigners to us. It is even harder to live it out. Yet when we look to our example, to Jesus, we see this is exactly how He practiced ministry. To all who came, Jesus offered welcome and love and a place at the table. To all who came, Jesus ministered to their needs. To all who came, Jesus extended relationship. It did not matter who the foreigner was – tax collector, prostitute, Samaritan, demon possessed, adulterer, thief… As we strive to live out Solomon’s hope for the foreigner, may we follow Jesus’ example, loving and welcoming all.


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Fast

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verses Three and Four: “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please… You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”.

Today we begin the season of Lent. Lent is a period of preparation for Easter Sunday. During the season of Lent we look inward and seek to examine our lives and to repent of all that hinders our relationships with God and our fellow man. For this purpose, many give up something (or somethings) for Lent. They abstain or fast from things that get in the way of their relationship with God and, therefore, with their fellow man. In many churches we place ashes on the forehead. With ashes we are reminded of our mortality, of our absolute need for God, and of our desire to die to self so we can fully live for God.

In our passage today, Isaiah addresses fasting. It is a very appropriate reading to consider as we begin Lent. The passage opens with God directing Isaiah to “declare to my people their rebellion” and goes on to say that they “seem” eager to know God and they “seem” eager to draw near to God. In verses three and four it is revealed why: “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please… You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. Their fasting is for appearance; it is not to refine oneself and to draw closer to God. Today, for example, one may fast from chocolate – not for God but to loose weight. God does go on to indicate the kind of fast that is pleasing to Him. God desires us to fast from hard hearts and blind eyes, from self-centeredness and arrogance, from prejudiced and judging.

God desires for His people to loosen the chains of injustice and oppression, to offer acts of love and compassion such as feeding the hungry, offering shelter to the homeless, clothing the naked. In doing so our “light will break forth like the dawn”. To do these things, our heart needs to be in the right place. That is why we must look within to see what inhibits our relationship with God and all of His children. When our fast leads us to love and care for others, then our light does shine into the darkness. This kind of fast produces fruit as others see true faith in our hearts and they come to know the love of Christ in their hearts as well.

What is it that prevents us from seeing the needs all around us? What is it that prevents us from responding to the opportunities to love and serve others? This Lenten season may we begin to look within as we seek a walk of faith that is pleasing to God, one that shines light into darkness. May we have the courage to identify all that holds us back and prevents us from being the light in the darkness. May we have the desire to cast these things out of our hearts as we strive to walk closer to God. As we do so, God will create a clean and pure heart within each of us. May it be so for each of us. Amen.


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Called to…?

In today’s section of Jeremiah, God is promising the Israelites a return to normal.  It has been so long that captivity and exile have become almost normal for them.  But their faith in God has kept them connected to and in touch with what is their normal homeland.  Thus they long to return and to once again live in safety under God’s protection.  It is a great place to live.

For most of us, this is were we exist.  We live a relatively comfortable and secure life.  There is food in the fridge and gas in the car.  The house is warm and is secure.  Employment will be at the same place tomorrow and my family will be around me in the evening.  This indeed is wonderful ‘normal’ and a great place to live.

But for some this is not the case.  In our call to care for the poor and needy, this situation disturbs my peace.  Even though it got down to the low single digits last night, some people slept outside.  Many of the people without the basics we take for granted will abuse drugs and/or alcohol as a means to cope with the despair, hopelessness, and other feelings generated by their situations.  The substance abuse often leads to an increase in the acts of violence on the streets and to the higher levels of fear that permeate the homeless community.  I do not think I would last long in this world, but it is ‘normal’ for far too many people.

So what is God calling me to do?  Is it to donate warm clothing to the local shelter?  Is it to volunteer time at the nearby day center?  Is it to teach a class that empowers one who is struggling to make positive changes in their life?  It may be one or more of these or something entirely different.  Lord, help me to discern where and how You are sending me to be in ministry to those in need.

Scripture reference: Jeremiah 31: 10-14


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Forsaken

If God forsook His own Son, it is possible that at times we too are forsaken?  If God turned His back on Jesus in one of His greatest times of need – there on the cross – won’t we too experience times when we feel God is not near?  These ‘dark nights of the soul’ are times all believers experience.

Personally, when we feel times of separation from God, it is an uneasy feeling.  God’s promise to always be there and never to leave us seems to be in question.  But it is His presence we miss.  Or the feeling that God is near.  I believe God is there – we just are struggling to feel His presence.  In these moments I think God is refining, molding, reshaping our faith so that we are more than we were before the experience.   It grows us and our faith to trust in and rely on God when we cannot sense His presence.  It requires blind or total faith.

At times groups of people feel forsaken.  We can certainly find many examples of this in the Old Testament and in the world today.  We certainly know how to pour out prayers of lament when we feel personally forsaken.  We must remember that God created and loves us all.  Each day may we seek to lift up those who feel forsaken by God – from the homeless and hopeless to the one who just lost a loved one to those who are victims of a tragedy near or far.  Cry out to God.  Be a voice for those who feel forsaken.  Draw God near to them so each may again feel His presence.

Scripture reference: Psalm 22: 1-8


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Engaging Systems

Our sins are not always the things we do.  Sometimes they are the things we fail to do.  Our sins are not always personal; sometimes they are communal or corporate.

About once a month we have a homeless person come to church on  Sunday.  Sometimes it is some other individual who is noticeable because they are different from the regular worshiper.  As the people of God we are called to love all people and as a whole we really do well at this.  But not always.  Some days we are only as loving or good or welcoming as our weakest or lowest part.  So it is our task as fellow believers to notice these weaker parts and to build them up in love for all people.  We cannot and should not accept less.

As a society there are ills and things that are not ‘right’ in all of our communities.  These are things that certainly cause a tear to roll down God’s cheek.  As the people of God we are called to address the issues in our communities.  This does not mean simply jumping on the latest Facebook bandwagon and adding your ‘like’.  It means being on the streets and in the shelters and in the jails.  It means going to the places where the least, the lost, and the broken are and entering into relationships with them.

To truly be the people of God and to really love all of our neighbors, we must roll up our sleeves and get a little dirty.  We must truly walk alongside those in need to begin to see things at a systemic level.  It is at this level that we must begin change.  To end prejudice, injustice, and hate we must begin with fixing the systems that cause these evils.  As Christians we must engage the evils of the world.  We are called to be the light in the darkness.  Our light needs to shine into these dark places to begin real change at the base level.

Scripture reference: Psalm 51: 1-12