pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Good Fruit

Reading: Isaiah 5: 3-7

Verse 4: “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”?

Today we see the outcome of all the love and care that was poured into the vineyard. The yielding of bad fruit draws a passionate response from the gardener. The gardener wistfully says, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”? When one considers all of God’s love and care and patience and guidance poured into Israel, one can begin to understand God’s pain and heartache and even a little anger. All parents experience this process, but usually on a much smaller scale. We raise our children as best we can and they still make poor decisions and bad choices now and then in spite of our best efforts.

God’s response to the vineyard Israel is to tear down the hedge and wall and to allow thorns to infest the ground. God even withholds the rain. God is stepping back from the relationship. God is not abandoning Israel, but is allowing them to experience the consequences of their decisions and choices. The injustice and bloodshed will not have good outcomes; the unanswered cries of distress will go on. All of this pains God deeply. Stepping back is a loving and merciful response. It is the response of a God who loves the people deeply.

I imagine that as God looks down on the world today, there is much that is painful to see. I imagine that God frequently asks the same “what more can I do” question. And then God sees the good fruit, the kind and loving followers of Jesus, working to bring light and love out into the world. God sees believers seeking to love God and to love neighbor. Yes, there are images of God sharing God’s love and care and compassion and mercy and justice with a world in need. Won’t you be one of them today?

Prayer: Loving God, lead me to love like Jesus today. Help me to be compassion and mercy and grace lived out. May it be so for me today and every day. Amen.

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Roaring Lion

Reading: Hosea 11: 8-11

Verse 8: “My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused”.

Verse eight opens with a loving parent asking how they can even think about giving up on their children. God asks how he can hand them over to eternal condemnation. Admah and Zeboiim are two cities that were also wiped from the face of the earth when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. The destruction of these cities was complete and it was final. God, as a loving parent, wonders how he can treat his children, his chosen people, like this. The good news is that God cannot.

In verse eight we also read, “My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused”. God’s strong love overrides the hurt and rejection and disappointment. God’s love has taken over. Yes, punishment is necessary at times. Some behavior merits a consequence. This is true for Israel. Yet through Hosea these rebellious and defiant children are reminded that because of God’s great love and mercy, God’s heart is still full of compassion for his beloved children.

There are and there will be times when I hurt my relationship with God, when I reject God’s will and live for myself. Like any parent would be, I am sure God is hurt and feels disappointed with me. I am also equally sure that my God will never forget or abandon me. God is always at work to bring me to a place of conviction that leads to confession that leads to repentance. At that point, God’s mercy and love and grace restores and redeems me. Sometimes I too suffer the consequences of turning away and sometimes I am punished for my sins. At times God, my loving parent, deems these things necessary. They are part of the refining and reshaping of my faith. These things lead to growth in my faith.

In verse ten we read, “They will follow the Lord; he will roar like a lion”. When I have been brought back into a right relationship with God, I most clearly see the depth of God’s love for me. In those experiences, God’s love and mercy and compassion roar like a lion. The power draws me in. May you hear God roar like a lion today.

Prayer: Powerful God, you are such an amazing and awesome God. In my weakness and in my failures I see the depth of your love. It would be so much easier for you to just let me go, but you don’t ever do that. Thank you so much. Amen.


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Live Up

Reading: Psalm 8

Verse 5: “You made him a little lower than heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor”.

The psalmist begins and ends with the same line: “O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth”! It is a good reminder of who God is and of our proper response – to praise God. In accordance, as the Psalm unfolds, the writer marvels at God’s handiwork that is evident in the heavens, stars, and moon. It leads him to questioning God being mindful of humanity. Compared to the vastness and immensity of creation, mankind can seem insignificant. We are but one small piece of the created order.

Humanity is one small but very important piece of the creation. In verse 5 we read, “You made him a little lower than heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor”. We are each made in the image of God. We are the “closest” to God in all of the created order. In the next verses we are reminded that God made humanity the “ruler” over the works of his hand. This idea of being a little lower than God can be both good and bad.

The idea is good when we read “ruler” as steward or caretaker of the earth and creation. The image we get of God is one of loving father, doing what is best for his children, even if it is sometimes hard. When God created, all was good. This remains God’s bent, for good to reign. But at times we can read “ruler” and think we can do or say anything we want. Our will and our desires can become the only thing that matter and the results are usually not for good.

When we consider this awesome responsibility, our place in the created order, we must remember that we are not God but are made in the image of God. Yes, we are called to be like him, but not to be him. When we see ourselves as “a little lower” than God we are less likely to be prideful and arrogant and self-serving. It does say “a little lower” so we must also seek to live up to that concept. In living up we remember our sacred worth and to live that out so that the Lord our God delights in us. The psalmist calls us to a high standard, one guided by love and care for the created world. May we live in a way that is pleasing to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you call us to a great standard – living in your image. Jesus lived that image well. He modeled a life filled with grace and mercy and love and service. May I follow him well this day, caring well for all that you place in my hands today. Amen.


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Love Extravagantly

Reading: John 12:1-11

Verse 3: “Mary took an expensive perfume, she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair”.

It was quite an extravagant thing that Mary did. She took what was likely the most valuable thing she had and she poured it on Jesus’ feet. In a way it is hard to imagine. It is hard for me to imagine giving away one of my most prized possessions in such a way. From the reactions of the disciples that we find in the other gospel accounts, we see that they too are taken aback by the gift. In Matthew we read that “they were indignant” and in Mark we read that “they rebuked her”. Perhaps we would have felt the same. Maybe part of the shock was that it was always Jesus who gave to others. Here someone is ministering to Jesus.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of such a gift? Have you ever been amazed by the extravagance or radical generosity of another? For me, such experiences have usually been gifts of time or presence. After a tragedy that I experienced in college, my former youth pastor opened his door and his heart to me over and over and walked with me through the grieving process. Looking back, I am not sure where I’d have been without Gil. Perhaps that is how Jesus looks at Mary’s gift too. He did not get stuck on the cash value but instead saw how Mary lovingly gave the very best she could. As Jesus would face the angry crowd and Pilate and Herod and the beating and the cross, here was one who did not abandon Him. She remained present. Her love did not waver. In love, she offered the best she could. Perhaps, in all that Jesus faced during His last week, perhaps His thoughts went back to this moment when someone lovingly served Him. Maybe this radical demonstration of love helped Jesus through.

For the last three Sundays, during the message I have asked the same question of the congregation: “What are we willing to do for Jesus”? It has been asked within the context of the Lenten sermon series. Each Sunday we’ve looked at how God moves first in us to draw us closer and then at how God seeks to move us out into the world. Mary’s gift was spontaneous but also led by the Spirit. She sensed time was short and offered all she could. In that small moment, she did not count the cost or worry about what others thought. She simply acted with selfless love. As we live out our week, may we too be open to the Spirit moving in and through us to offer ourselves extravagantly in love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to the world around me and grant me a heart that feels as you feel. Make me a willing servant this week as I seek to live out your love. Amen.


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One Body

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12: 12-31a

Verse 27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”.

Paul’s analogy of the church as a body is wonderful. If one thinks about our bodies, we are made of many different organs, tissues, bones, and lots of other parts. Yet the body itself all works together in amazing harmony. Our inner functions hum right along without thoughts directing them. We are fearfully and wonderfully and perfectly made. It is a beautiful image. Isn’t this the dream for our churches?

The body of Christ is brought together by the Holy Spirit. In verse 13 Paul writes, “we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body”. Our faith in Jesus Christ is what draws us together and unites us. Through the Holy Spirit we are each adopted into the body – into the family of God. We reflect this in our baptism liturgy. Also within that liturgy it is not only the parents that covenant to raise the child in the church, but it is also the whole congregation that promises to help do so as well. One body.

But being human, the church is not always perfect. Paul addresses this in verses 14-17 and again in verses 21-26. Sometimes a part of the body thinks it is more important than the rest of the body. One part thinks its way is the best or the only way. This is just one way of causing strife and division in the body. On occasion one part of the body thinks its role is superior to the other parts of the body and this can make other parts feel less needed or less valued. God designed the body of Christ to be better than all of this. Most often, fortunately, it is!

Towards the end of our passage Paul writes, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”. To me this statement has an implied “so act like it” for us to hear as well. We are called to be a witness to the world. We do so by first and foremost genuinely loving and caring for one another within the body of Christ. It is my prayer that all we do and say as the body of Christ is guided by love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, when I am feeling pride or judgment creeping in, quickly bring the conviction of the Holy Spirit to my heart. In those times of tension or unease, may I hear the voice of that same Holy Spirit leading and guiding me. Amen.


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For Us

Reading: Mark 9: 38-41

Verse 40: “For whoever is not against us is for us”.

Who is in? Who is out? What do I have to do to be a part of this group or organization? What are the rules?

These are the questions we ask. We prefer rule and order. We like to be around people who are like us, people who have similar interests and hobbies, people who see the world as we see the world. It is even the way of the natural world. Lions hang out with lions, chickadees with chickadees.

In today’s passage, John asks Jesus about a man they do not know. This man was driving out demons in Jesus’ name. The disciples initial reaction was to tell the man to stop because he is not one of them. Who could walk into the church tomorrow morning and draw a similar reaction?

John is struggling with the opening questions that I posed today. This man is out, he is not part of their group, he is not following all the right rules. To John, one must be part of the group that follows Jesus 24-7. If you do not follow this rule, you better not be doing miracles in Jesus’ name. Jesus does not see it this way. Not even close. Jesus says to John and the disciples, “Whoever is not against us is for us”. Here we see Jesus once again being inclusive instead of exclusive.

If Jesus were the pastor left in our church tomorrow and “that” person or persons walked in, He would welcome them, introduce himself, help them to find a good seat, and would make sure they got coffee and cookies after church. He sees this man driving out demons as being for the kingdom. He wants His disciples to see people this way too. If you are not against us you are for us. For Jesus, all are welcome in the kingdom, all are invited. May we see all people this way too.

Lord, help me to be inclusive and welcoming and open to all people. When my heart or mind begins to erect barriers, smash them down. Give me eyes to see as Jesus saw and a heart to love as He loved. Amen.


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Heavenly Wisdom

Reading: James 3: 13-18

Verse 13: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, be deeds done in humility”.

In our passage from James 3, he compares earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. Earthly wisdom is concerned with the self. It focuses on our own preferences and is driven by envy and selfish ambition. In our churches we can see this type of wisdom now and then. It usually arises when change is on the horizon. Change necessitates leaving the familiar and the comfortable. Individually we also cling to earthly wisdom when the Holy Spirit is nudging us to say or do something – for the same reasons. James reminds us that such wisdom is “earthly, unspiritual, and of the devil”.

Our alternative is to choose heavenly wisdom or wisdom from above. This wisdom is the opposite of earthly wisdom. Hear again the words that James uses to describe heavenly wisdom: “pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere”. What a contrast! This wisdom leads us to think of God and others more than ourselves. This wisdom leads us to see and love all people as God does. This sounds a lot like how Jesus operated.

Our passage today opens with this verse: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, be deeds done in humility”. In essence, James is asking us who is wise by God’s standard. In a return to the theme of James 2, it is again our works and the fruit of our faith that reveals the true condition of our hearts. When we are allowing God’s wisdom to be our guide, we live out of a good place in our heart, following Jesus’ example. We love and care for those in need. We enjoy good relationships with God, our family, friends, co-workers, teammates, and even with the stranger. We seek good rather than evil. We maintain a humble servant’s attitude as we interact with God and neighbor. In turn, we experience the good life, blessed by God. May it be so for you and for me.

Dear God, fill me with your wisdom – a wisdom that is pure and considerate and compassionate and humble and loving. May all I do and say lift others up. Empower me to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and to shine a light on Jesus and His love. This day and every day, may your wisdom guide me. Amen.