pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Passing Faith Along

Reading: Matthew 10: 40-42

Verse 40: “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me”.

Today’s passage pairs well with the Romans 6 passage that we have been reading. Jesus is encouraging us to turn to others in the name of the Lord. In the opening verse Jesus explains the connection: when we serve another in Jesus’ name, if they receive our faithful service, they are receiving Jesus. And if the person or group receives Jesus then they also receive God. Whether we are giving a cup of water to a “little one” or if we are visiting a friend experiencing loss or if we are giving clothes or other assistance to one in need or if we share the good news, if we do so for the Lord, then that person or group is meeting Jesus in us.

As we share Jesus and God with others we are part of a long line of faithful witnesses. At some point we were the one receiving Jesus and God into our hearts. At some point the folks we share Jesus and God with will be the witnesses passing along faith. Together we form the “great cloud of witness” referred to in Hebrews 12. To serve others, to witness to our faith in Jesus Christ – they require obedience to God, a servant’s heart, and a willing spirit. As we are filled up today and go out into the world this week, may we seek to help all we meet to receive the Lord Jesus Christ into their hearts. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, may the words that I speak and the actions that I take shine your light and love into the world. May I bear witness to you faithfully this week. Amen.


Leave a comment

For All

Reading: Romans 8: 6-8

Verse 8: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

As the second half of our Romans reading opens, we are reminded again of how God is in control. We read, “at just the right time”. Not a moment too soon, not a few days too late. Perhaps it was when humanity needed saving the most. Maybe it was when things lined up just right from God’s perspective. Possibly it was a tipping point that none of us can see from this side of the veil. But at just the right time, “Christ died for the ungodly”. That is me and that is you and that it all people everywhere. Christ died for all.

The act of sacrificial death born out on the cross begs the question: Why? Paul answers the question in verse eight: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Why? Because God loved you and me and all of humanity so much that he was willing to send his son to die a painful death. Why? Because the price had to be paid for the sins of the world – mine, yours, all of ours. Why? Because resurrection can happen only after death. It is quite the demonstration of love.

If Christ was willing to die for us while we were still sinners, what should our response be to those we encounter that need healing or redemption or restoration or new life? Should we be willing to go as far as Jesus went to minister to those he met? If not death, then how far should we be willing to go to end injustice in all forms, to break bonds and addictions, to cross unspoken barriers, to offer forgiveness and grace? Should we even have a line?

When Jesus encountered someone in need, he did not have them fill out a questionnaire to determine if they qualified or fit certain parameters. He did not evaluate them to see if they were worth his time and energies. No, Jesus came for all and he loved all. We see this reflected in his death – he died for all. And before his final departure, Jesus instructed his followers to go and do likewise. Today, may we seek to model that same love – no conditions, no qualifications, no strings attached. May we simply love and serve all we meet today.

Prayer: Loving God, open my heart to your love, that in receiving I may give. Bind my will to your will and my ways to your ways. Empower me to love and serve others well today. Amen.


Leave a comment

Radical Hospitality

Reading: Genesis 18: 1-8

Verse 2: “When he saw them, he hurried… to meet them and bowed low to the ground”.

The church service has run long again and there won’t be much time before the next mini- congregation enters the sanctuary for their time of worship. You know from past similar experiences that the line will now be extra long at your favorite brunch spot. And your tummy is already growling. When the pastor finally says the last “Amen” you are ready to bolt for the exit. It is then that you spot that new young couple you saw moving in a couple houses down your street.

As Abraham stood at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day, he was probably weighing a little nap versus going back out there in the hot sun. It was then that he saw three men standing nearby. Instead of a quick wave on the way to ducking into his tent, we read that this was his response: “When he saw them, he hurried… to meet them and bowed low to the ground”. Abraham welcomed them into his presence and extended generous hospitality. He asks them to stay, bringing water to wash their feet. He invites them to rest in the shade of the tree while having the finest bread and tenderest calf prepared. When this is ready, he serves it with milk and curds. Abraham offers the best that he has to these three strangers.

Would you pretend that you did not see the young couple and rush off to brunch with the regulars? Would you wave and point at your watch, adding a little shrug as you head the other way? Or would you make your way over to them, introduce yourself, and welcome them to the neighborhood and hopefully to the church? Would you, like Abraham, go the extra step to offer them some choice food and drink, extending an invitation to begin a relationship?

As we will see as we continue to read tomorrow, when and perhaps because Abraham extended radical hospitality, he experiences the divine. As we make the choice to offer radical hospitality, maybe we too will experience the power and might of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. May it be so for our churches and for each of us as well.

Prayer: Holy Lord, lead me today to be like Abraham, choosing to offer all of myself to others today. May I give the very best that I can. Meet me in that space, O Lord. Amen.


Leave a comment

A Plumb Line

Reading: Amos 7: 7-9

Verse 8: “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer”.

God has called Amos out of the field to be a prophet to his people. The people have been living in ways that are displeasing to God. The king has led the people astray and the priest has followed along. The king and priest and the people are comfortable, even happy, in the lifestyle that they have settled into. The practices of caring for the other – the widows, orphans, needy… – have all been laid aside. Amos has been sent to pronounce judgment.

Today’s passage begins with God standing by a wall that has been built perfectly true. The wall and it’s perfection represent the law. The law is what is just and true and right. God stands by his wall. He asks Amos what he sees. Amos is still faithful to God and to the law. He sees a plumb line showing the wall to be true. God says to Amos, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer”. Amos is the plumb line. It is his voice that will try to call the people back to right and holy living. God will not spare them. Their hearts have become hard because they have come to love other things. Destruction and ruin will come. The voice of the prophet is not enough to fix all that is wrong.

In our world and perhaps in our lives we find much that is askew and wrong. For a long time the world has preached power and wealth and popularity. These things have been emphasized so long that they are the norm and they are embraced. To say that accumulating excessive wealth is wrong is looked at as abnormal today. The world sees self as #1 so to encourage people to care deeply for the needy draws odd looks. Amos’ world and our world are pretty similar.

In our world and in our lives, where is God calling us to apply the plumb line? Where can we make things align better with God and his plans?

Prayer: Lord, help me to search deeply within, to search for what needs to be set right. Give me the courage to change what needs changed. Go with me, O God. Amen.


1 Comment

Permanent Home

Reading: 2 Samuel 7: 1-14a

Verse Two: “Here I am living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent”.

We like security and routine. We prefer to have a home to go to at night, to have food in the fridge, to know what we are doing tomorrow. Even when we go on vacation we plan out where we will stay and what we will do.

King David has established his kingdom and has conquered all of his enemies around him. He gets a moment to breathe as he relaxed in his palace. Soon his attention turns to God. David thinks and then says to God, “Here I am living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent”. David is trying to look out for God. This God who has blessed his life and his reign deserves better than a tent for a dwelling place.

This is a kind thought and a nice gesture, but God is not quite ready to settle down. God sends the prophet Nathan back to David with some good words but a “not now” on the home idea. Maybe God is still unsure about this whole king thing. Remember, David is only the second king. The first king, Saul, did not work out so good. And before that, we recall that God did not want to give the Israelites an earthly king because that was rejecting God as their king.

Yet in God’s response to David’s thought on building a home for God, God tells David that his line will be established forever. God will “make your name great” and “establish his kingdom forever”. Yes, Solomon will build the temple. Yes, Jesus does come from David’s line and His kingdom rules forever. But it is definitely not smooth sailing in between these two heirs of David. A permanent home in Jerusalem was just not to be.

With Jesus, God did finally find a permanent home. The promise to David did come true. Once we choose a personal relationship with Jesus as our Lord and Savior, He does come and sit on the throne of our heart. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and this presence dwells in our hearts. This is where God has always felt at home – in the hearts of His people. With God in our hearts, we too find a home. With God in our hearts, we become part of His family. In this home and within this family we find the peace and security and love that lasts forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Leave a comment

A Better Way

Reading: Genesis 29: 15-28

Verse 25: What is this you have done to me? … Why have you deceived me?

Today’s reading is an interesting turn of events.  Poor Jacob is tricked by his uncle and ends up with the older, less beautiful daughter.  But before we feel too bad for Jacob, let’s remember why he is here.  Jacob has fled from his home to escape the wrath of his father Isaac and his brother Esau.  He tricked the very elderly Isaac into giving him, the younger son, Esau’s birthright.  Maybe, just maybe, Jacob deserves what Labsn has done – a little taste of his own medicine, so to speak.

But before we jump on that bandwagon, we’d better take a little stock of our own lives.  Yes, we have probably been in a place like Jacob finds himself in.  We have been let down by someone we trusted.  We have had agreements and arrangements broken.  Maybe we were a faithful employee for years and years, only to see the new and younger person receive the leadership role.  Maybe we have seen a long-term friendship evaporate when someone new moved to town.  We have all been where Jacob finds himself.  We know the anger, the hurt, the frustration.

When we stop and reflect, though, we’ve all played Laban’s role as well.  Maybe we haven’t slipped the older daughter into a drunk man’s bed after he had worked for seven years for the other daughter, but we have made decisions or manipulated or crossed the line a time or two.  Maybe it was as simple as choosing how to reword something or to embellish it or to leave a detail out – to best insure our desired outcome.  In any event, we have been there and done it.  We too have made others shout, “What is this you have done to me? … Why have you deceived me”?

When we take stock, when we reflect on those moments, we realize there is a better way for us and for others.  It is the way of love, the way of the servant, the way of Jesus.  Lord, help me to be righteous, bringing honor and glory to you in all I do and say and think this day and every day.


Leave a comment

Upward

Reading: Luke 18: 9-14

How would you finish this line: “Thank God I a not like __”?  For the Pharisee in today’s story, the tax collector is nearby and is an easy target to compare himself with.  Everybody looks down on the tax collectors!  But on another day it could be a struggling widow or the town beggar.  When one steps outside the temple the possibilities of how one could finish that line grows quickly: Gentile, Samaritan, prostitute, slave, foreigner, Roman…

For the Pharisee, he finds great comfort in who he is, or at least in how he appears to others.  He is, of course, playing a game that we are quite good at too.  By comparing himself to another who is an ‘obvious’ target in society, he is elevating himself.  But it is shallow and self-centered.  It is also far from pleasing to and honoring of God.

So, how would we finish that line?  Who in our communities would go on that line?  Our answers could be political, ethnic, racial, socio-economic, emotional, moral, or simply learned.  Our answers could be intimate friends, family members, co-workers, fellow pew mates, neighbors, and strangers.  We find no shortage of others we could compare ourselves to.  We are also quick to look away from those to whom we do not compare to favorably.  The game can cut both ways.

For the Pharisee, and all too often for most of us, the focus is not on God and the many things we should be grateful for.  Our focus is too easily inward and not upward.  May we be grateful for who we each are in God and for the unique gifts and talents we all possess.  May we offer praise and thanksgiving for the many blessings we have.  May empathy and compassion be what fills our eyes, minds, and hearts.  May generosity and humility guide our response to those God places in our lives.  May our gaze be ever upward.