pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hear the Cries

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-15

Verse 17: “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”.

Hagar and Ishmael are sent out into the wilderness. They are given a small amount of food and water. Soon these run out. Hagar must have been struggling with this fate – we all would. Why would life have to end like this? What do you think being rejected and cast out felt like? People all over our nation are wrestling with the idea of being outcast, rejected, marginalized. Some are like Hagar, on the inside looking out. Others are on the outside and many are trying to understand and are trying to be a part of the solution.

Hagar prepares to die, along with her son. Both weep tears. Ishmael’s are probably of sadness and loneliness and confusion. Hagar feels these emotions, but more: anger, hurt, unworthiness, isolation, hopelessness. But as they cry, God hears them. God says to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”. Those words – “do not be afraid”. These words are echoed throughout the story of faith. They say, God is near, God is with us. Today is not the end. Hagar and her son will not only survive, he will become a great nation too. God is saying that they matter, that their lives are important to God. God hears the cry of the outcast and the rejected. They are of sacred worth to God. God is their God too.

God continues to hear the cry of those that some see as less worthy, as less than. Jesus certainly heard their cries too. He invited us to hear the cries of the needy, the marginalized. And he told us to respond, to meet needs, to love them just as he first loved us. There is a great need in our nation right now for social justice and equality. May we, as followers of Jesus Christ, hear the cries of the outcast and oppressed. And may we, like God, choose to walk with them.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen me for the day ahead. Gird me up to love all people well, to model that love after Jesus’ love. Lead me to act justly and to love mercy as I strive to walk humbly with you. Amen.


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Preaching, Teaching, Healing

Reading: Matthew 9: 35-38

Verse 35: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching… preaching… and healing”.

Today’s short passage sums up Jesus’ ministry quite well. In verse 35 we read about the things that occupied most of his time: teaching, preaching, and healing. I believe that these three practices remain the core practices of ministry today. These three practices often work together to shape and form who we are as people of faith.

Teaching can occur in many settings and can cover many topics. In ministry, we most often think of Bible studies and other topical small groups as the main ways that teaching occurs. This tends to be the focus of teaching in our churches. There are other ways to teach faith. In intentional conversations and in the things we regularly do and say we teach about faith. For example, as parents our everyday words and actions are the main methods of passing our faith along to our children. In this time of COVID there has been a great deal of teaching in our churches on how to safely minister while honoring the need to social distance and stay at home. We have begun to teach about safely gathering again. More recently there has been an increase in teaching on racism and prejudice in America. These teachings have centered on understanding racism and on recognizing how we are all implicit in and impacted by this evil. Social justice has always been a cornerstone of Christianity.

Preaching is something we think just happens on Sunday morning or maybe on a Wednesday or Saturday night. These are the primary delivery times but it also occurs at various times in a variety of settings. These can range from a one-on-one conversation to retreats and camps and even to impromptu gatherings in a bar or the local coffee shop. In almost all cases, preaching centers on sharing, understanding, and applying faith to our daily lives.

Healing was the third aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Today we do not see as many physical healings as we read about in the New Testament. But the Holy Spirit is very active, working in and through Christians all over the world. Healing included restoration to wholeness, redemption from sins and bondage, being drawn into a community of faith, and finding new life in Jesus Christ.

In our passage we read that Jesus preached, taught, and healed for one reason: compassion. He saw those who were in need – the “the harassed and helpless” – and he ministered to them. Our very understanding of who is harassed and helpless has certainly grown over these last few months. In verse 37 Jesus notes, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”. May we all be workers for Jesus Christ today!

Prayer: Leading God, day by day help me to use all three of these practices to minister to my congregation and to my community. Empower me by the Holy Spirit to bring fullness and wholeness of life to those in need. Amen.


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Speaking and Hearing

Reading: Acts 2: 1-11

Verse 11: “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues”.

Today and for the next two days we will focus on Pentecost – the day largely accepted as the birthday of the church. A small group of Jesus’ followers were gathered together for worship. A loud and powerful wind announced the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Represented by what appeared to be “tongues of fire” that lit on each one, the followers were filled by the Holy Spirit.

Meanwhile, Jews from all around the city were drawn by the sound of the wind. These Jews were from all over the known world – come to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the three yearly Jewish festivals. Filled with the Spirit, Jesus’ followers begin to each speak in languages native to these Jews. The Jews from around the world are bewildered because “we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues”. How could these simple Galileans be speaking in so many different languages? Clearly something amazing is going on here!

The followers speaking in tongues is only part of the miracle though. The Holy Spirit was not just at work among the followers of Jesus. Just because words are spoken, it does not mean they are heard. Many of the Jews there that day had open ears and receptive hearts. It will still take a little Holy Spirit fueled preaching by Peter to really help bring them to Christ, but with the Spirit’s continued work the church will grow that day.

Each of us is a follower who could do what was done in today’s passage. Our gifted language may not be Egyptian or Arabic or any other foreign language. But it is addiction or divorce or grief or abuse or justice or single parenthood… Each of us has stories about the “wonders of God” in our own lives. If we are sensitive to and pay attention to the Holy Spirit living inside each of us, we will have opportunities to speak new life into someone else’s ear. Will your words be the miracle of healing or recovery or restoration or belonging that someone needs to hear? Are you ready to speak?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, my journey to this point has been long and filled with many Holy Spirit experiences. Help me to see each as a step in my journey, as a possible step in another’s journey of faith. May the Holy Spirit be at work in me, leading and guiding me to tell the story of faith as I have opportunity. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Turn Back to God

Reading: Joel 2: 1-2 and 12-17

Verse 13: “Rend your hearts and not your garments”.

Joel was a prophet who worked to call the people back to God. His beloved nation has been invaded and destroyed by a great swarm of locusts. The swarm has come, of course, for a reason. Joel calls the priests to lead by example – to put on sack cloth and to grieve what has happened. The nation lays shriveled and dry in the aftermath of the swarm. The souls of the people are in the same state. This is the context that we use to turn to today’s passage from Joel 2.

Joel is not looking for lip service, a weak apology, or for someone to just go through the motions. In verse one Joel gives us a sense of urgency, declaring, “Blow the trumpets… sound the alarm”! Why? Because the day of the Lord is close at hand. In our Lenten journey we should have the same urgency. In our pursuit of holiness and justice and righteousness, we should be charging down the gates as we look within and strive to be more like Jesus. Whether it is April 12 or whether our day comes sooner, we too should sound the alarm and we should work to be made ready for the day of the Lord.

In verse twelve we hear God’s call to return to him with fasting and weeping and mourning. Does the state of our soul lead us to these practices? When we honestly look within we may be lead to tears. In verse thirteen Joel calls for us to“rend your hearts and not your garments”. Don’t just tear the superficial clothing, but dive deep and get to the core, to the heart of the matter. When we do so, we too will experience the God described by Joel: gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love. God is not a destroying God but a restoring God. In faith may we turn back to God, asking the Holy Spirit to be at work in our souls. In faith God will respond, joining us in sacred assembly. God meets us there because God is loving and faithful and gracious. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for reminding me once again today of your grace and compassion, of your abundant love. The gentle reminder encourages me to seek deeply within, to search honestly for what must go. As a refiner, purify my heart, cleanse my soul. Make me more in thy image. Shine within me so that I may light my world today. Amen.


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The Footstool and the Mountain

Reading: Psalm 99

Verse 5: “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy”.

Psalm 99 establishes that God reigns over all the earth and is to be worshipped by all the nations. Above all, God is holy. Because of this God loves justice and equity. God answers prayers. The Lord is pleased with Moses, Aaron, Samuel, and others who have walked faithfully. When one such as these calls on the Lord “he answers them”. All this leads the people to praise God. Verses five and nine speak of this and are almost identical. Verse five reads, “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy”. Verse nine just substitutes “holy mountain” for “footstool”. The affect is the same.

The call to walk faithfully and to worship God is a call that we hear well. When we consider the presence of God in our lives and the contentment, peace, joy, hope… that God brings us, our responses are to keep walking and worshipping. Even though we know these practices to be true and right and worthy of our time, we can also struggle to always be obedient.

Being fully human we desire to walk our own way at times. We want what we want. Our selfishness seizes control and we claim to know better than God. As we begin down this road we find other idols to worship. They can be the common and obvious ones: possessions, status, or power. Or they can be the ones harder to see from the outside: pride, ego, jealousy, envy, gossip, anger… When we get off track come to the point where we find ourselves far from God.

When we are reawakened by the call or the nudge of the Holy Spirit, we can again seek to be faithful and obedient. In his great love and mercy, God welcomes us back. From this place of humility we bow and worship God at his footstool. God does not leave us there long. In that same great love and mercy God lifts us up. He restores us to fullness of life once again and we worship him as Moses did – on God’s holy mountain. Praise the Lord!

Prayer: Lord God, you are rich in mercy and abundant in love. Your grace washes away my failures and your light guides me back to the path of faithful obedience once again. Thank you for always seeking me out by the power of your Holy Spirit. May my life be one of worship and praise, bringing others into your love and grace. Amen.


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Eyes, Ears, Minds

Reading: 1st Corinthians 2: 6-16

Verse 12: “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God”.

Paul and the church today speak a message that is not the wisdom “of this age or of the rulers of this age”. It is a message that the world struggles to understand. Paul says this is why the rulers of the world crucified Jesus. Today many rulers do not understand the message of faith and they continue to persecute Christians. In some places, death comes to the faithful. The things of God remain foolishness to those without eyes to see, without ears to hear, without minds to conceive.

The people who chose to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior do understand God’s wisdom. We join Paul and the early church to proclaim: “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God”. Thanks be to God. The Holy Spirit connects us to God by “expressing spiritual truths”. We are guided and protected, convicted and redirected by the Spirit. By the power of the Holy Spirit we become humble servants, seeking to share God’s love and our blessings with the broken and needy. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are present to the grieving and lonely, offering God’s love and our love. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are voices of power for the weak and mistreated, bringing God’s love and justice to bear on unjust and oppressive situations.

The people and rulers of the world look on such actions and they do not understand what motivates such selfless behaviors. It is foolishness to those we seek to exert power and control, who seek to exploit and oppress. But to those who have “the mind of Christ”, this is the path that Jesus walked and it is the path we seek to follow. It is the path that God “has prepared for those that love him”. Guided by the Holy Spirit, may we reveal the love of God to all we meet today. May our eyes see, may our ears hear, and may our minds conceive the path that the Lord has prepared us to walk today.

Prayer: God of all, may I be open to the needs and hurts of the world around me today. Send the Holy Spirit to lead and guide me to be a humble servant if that is needed, to be a voice of justice if that is needed, to be a spirit of comfort if that is needed. Use me as you will today to help build your kingdom here in this place. Amen.


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Blessings

Reading: Psalm 112

Verse 1: “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands.”

Psalm 112 is a beautiful reminder of the great gain one finds from a faithful walk with the Lord. Verse one begins with “blessed is…” and the psalmist continues on by recounting all the ways that God can bless the faithful: children are blessed, good comes, and the heart is secure. A faithful walk can be one without fear, one without being shaken. Living faithfully can draw out ones generosity, graciousness, compassion, and sense of justice. Choosing to fear the Lord and to honor his ways leads to a blessed life.

Not all who live a faithful life will be wealthy or healthy or free from troubles. Blessings are not always monetary bounty. Many who live within a budget and do not have much beyond the basics feel very blessed and contented, living joyous lives. Blessings are not always living healthily until 94 years of age or more. The blessings come in being assured of God’s presence and love in and through the illness and disease and other physical trials of life. These things are part of life for almost everyone. God’s presence is the gift of blessing for the faithful amidst their trials and sufferings. Life will bring other times of trouble too – some self-inflicted, some by others doing. In the same way, the faithful can turn to God and can rely on God’s strength to get through these seasons as well.

As the Psalm draws to a close, we read, “his righteousness endures forever”. Living a faithful and righteous life here can bring many blessings, both here and in the kingdom to come. As we live out our faith in the here and now we also look forward to our heavenly home. May we walk each day faithfully, blessing others as we are blessed by God.

Prayer: Loving Father, life is truly better when lived in close relationship with you. Strengthen me in moments when I falter or am weak and lift me up. Encourage my daily walk through the power of your Holy Spirit. May all I do and say honor you. Amen.


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Justice, Mercy, Humility

Reading: Micah 6: 4-8

Verse 6: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God”?

Our passage today begins with God reminding the people of all that God has recently done for them. God gave them leaders and brought them out of slavery. God guided them to the promised land, performing righteous act after righteous act all along the way. How could the people be so disconnected from a God that has shown them so much love? Yet if we took a few minutes to reflect on how God has led us, guided us, blessed us, forgiven us, rescued us… we too might be a bit ashamed of how disconnected we can be from God for periods or even seasons in our lives.

Micah then asks an important, self-reflective question. In verse six he asks, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God”? If we more frequently asked this question, we would be connected to God more of our lives. Micah goes on to ask if God really desires burnt offerings of calves or rams or if God really needs thank offerings equivalent to rivers of oil. Micah even wonders if the sacrifice of the firstborn child would cleanse the sin of his soul. Our questions are a little different but come from the same place. Is it not enough God that I’ve been to church two out of four Sundays most months? Is it not enough that I gave to the church some of what I had left at the end of the month? Didn’t I check off enough boxes to be blessed by you, O God?! The people of Micah’s day were going through the motions of being God’s people. They were all about doing.

In verse eight Micah reminds them and us of what God desires: “to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God”. These are ways of being. These are ways of the heart. When we are people of justice, mercy, and humility, we are closely connected to the core of who God is. May we be people who act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and with our fellow humans. May it always be so.

Prayer: Father God, in all I do and say and think, help me to do it justly. In all I do and say and think, help me to lead with mercy. In all I do and say and think, help me to walk humbly, elevating you and others far above self. Draw me to you, O God. Amen.


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Compassion

Readings: Psalm 29 and Psalm 72: 1-7 and 10-14

Psalm 72, verse 4: “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”.

Beginning in Psalm 29 one feels the glory and strength and splendor of God. There is power and might in God’s voice. It is like thunder that breaks the cedars and strips the forest bare. God’s voice thunders over the waters and the whole earth. David closes by remembering that the God who resides far above us, the one enthroned forever, will also give strength and blessings of peace to his people.

Turning to Psalm 72 Solomon adds depth to God’s character. For Solomon, God is a God of justice and righteousness. The powerful and somewhat distant God of the heavens in Psalm 29 is also a God that cares personally for the afflicted. In Psalm 72, verse four, we read: “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”. Those that many in society will look past or over, God sees and will intervene on their behalf. God incarnate, Jesus in the flesh, echoes this compassion for the outcast and downtrodden. Jesus often speaks of feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoners… In Matthew 25 Jesus even defines such actions as part of the sorting process for admission into eternal life.

Even though God and later Jesus are compassionate and loving towards “the least of these”, in our world today this just does not seem like a high priority for most Christians. There seems to be plenty of time to go hunting or to a sporting event or ten, but when the call goes out to be in mission at the jail or to serve a meal to those in need, the line is noticably shorter.

Too often our busyness feels consuming and too easily becomes the excuse we give when the voice of the Holy Spirit comes calling. Think about all the passages in the Bible that speak of the times that Jesus was too busy to heal the blind man or to build faith in one who came at night or… Oh ya – there aren’t any. There shouldn’t be any in our lives either. May it be so.

Prayer: Compassionate God, your heart goes out to the needy and it is closely followed by your hands. The heart of Jesus always had time for the powerless and the outcast. Make my heart more like that too, O God. Pour your heart into mine. Amen.


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Our Call

Reading: Isaiah 42: 1-9

Verse 6: “I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles”.

As Christians, we see the Bible as God’s continuing revelation of who God is. The love story between God and humanity unfolds from Genesis through Revelation. We receive the fullest revelation of God in the incarnate Jesus. He is our Immanuel – God with us. Jesus was physically present for about 30 years and has been spiritually present in the Holy Spirit ever since.

When we read our passage for today, as Christians we see and identify Jesus in these words. We cannot be 100% sure that the servant of whom Isaiah writes is Jesus. But we can be sure that Jesus himself takes on this identity and these qualities. At the time, Jesus did not appear to be the Messiah most Jews were looking for. They expected and longed for another leader like King David – one who would slay giants and enemies alike, one who would restore Israel to greatness on the world stage. Jesus was and is instead a servant who builds a very different kingdom one lost soul at a time.

In verse six Isaiah writes, “I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles”. Reading with New Testament eyes we see these words fulfilled in the new covenant founded upon Jesus’ sacrifice. When thinking of justice, the justice that God offers is not the justice of the world. Here justice means you pay and/or spend time incarcerated, depending on your offence. Jesus suffered and died to pay the price for our sins. Because he made atonement, God grants us mercy and grace and forgiveness. God’s justice seeks to restore and redeem, to bring back wholeness and abundant life. Jesus picks up these themes and runs with them. He ministers to those in need, giving sight to the blind, freedom to the captives, shining light into the darkness. Jesus fulfills God’s justice for all people. He will commission the disciples and all else who follow him to continue to bring the good news to the ends of the earth. As believers, this too is our call.

Maybe you call begins at home with a non-believing spouse or child or parent. Maybe it begins down the street, in your neighbor’s front yard. Maybe your call begins at school with your classmates or teammates or at work with your coworker or employee or boss. Most often the mission field is close to home. But maybe yours is far away. Step one is still the same: follow where God leads. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: God of abundant love, you are ever inviting more and more people into your love. Through me may some outside the family of God hear your invitation to wholeness and abundant life. Use me as you will, O God. Amen.