pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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He Is Our Peace

Reading: Micah 5: 2-5a

Verses 4 & 5a: “They will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace”.

The prophet Micah identifies tiny Bethlehem as the place that will bring forth something great. The One will rule over Israel with an authority that is from “ancient times” – the beginning of time, as a matter of fact. The One will stand and “shepherd His flock”. He will be filled with the strength of the Lord. Yes, this great King will come from tiny Bethlehem.

God always has been and always will be a God who uses the unlikely and the least. Sometimes the enemy is mighty. God chose stuttering, shy Moses to take on Pharoah and to lead the people through the wilderness. God chose the youngest – still just a shepherd boy – to anoint and to defeat the giant, rescuing Israel from the Philistines. God chose Saul, the greatest opponent of the early church, to become Paul, one of the greatest apostles of that same early church.

God chose an unwed teenager from tiny Bethlehem to bear the Savior of the world. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary gave birth to a baby, wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger. Christ was born to save us all. God incarnate, the One who would bring salvation through the cross, entered the world as a helpless little baby.

Jesus does not stay a baby. He grows up and ministers to the people, giving us an example of how to live out God’s love. Jesus also reveals what it looks like to be fully obedient to God, trusting all things to God. Micah writes, “They will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace”. His greatness is making its way to the ends of the earth, one new believer at a time. As the good news spreads, so too does His peace. Today, may we each contribute to the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ, sharing His peace and love with all we meet.

Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace today. Amen.

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Why Am I So Blessed?

Reading: Luke 1: 39-45

Verse 43: “Why am I so blessed, that the mother of my Lord should come to me”?

Luke begins his Gospel with the angelic visits to Zechariah and to Mary, each time proclaiming a special and holy birth. Zechariah is told that his boy will go before the Lord, preparing the people for His coming. Mary is told that she will bear the Son of the Most High. She is also told that Elizabeth will give birth too, even though she is old and barren. Gabriel closes his visit with Mary by reminding her, “For nothing is impossible with God”.

This quick recap gets us to today’s passage. Mary gets ready and heads off to see her relative Elizabeth. When Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, her baby leaps within her womb. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and she identifies Mary as “blessed among women” and declares the child to be blessed as well. Elizabeth, through the power of the Spirit, knows she is in the presence of the Lord. She then asks, “Why am I so blessed, that the mother of my Lord should come to me”? She wonders honestly why she is so blessed.

Every day we cross paths with many people. Often they are familiar to us and sometimes we meet someone new or someone we only occasionally see. This last one was the case with Mary and Elizabeth. Some of our encounters each day are opportunities to be people of faith. Maybe it is by simply rejoicing in someone’s presence in our lives, thanking them for the positive ways in which they bless us. Maybe it is ministering to their need in that time and place – offering food or clothing or gifts for their children, praying with them, or just being present during a time of loss. Maybe it is sharing the good news with someone who does not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

We do not know if it is a familiar face or a stranger that God will place in our path today or tomorrow. We do not know what task God will set us to. But we do know that the Holy Spirit will lead and guide us to accomplish God’s purposes if we are as willing and receptive as Elizabeth was. If we are, we too will be blessed. Like her, we may walk away wondering why we were so blessed to be in Jesus’ company. If we are faithful, we will be truly blessed.

Prayer: Lord, may the Holy Spirit be active and present today. May my words and actions bring your light and love into people’s lives. In doing so, I will be blessed to be in your presence as well. Thank you for the opportunities you bring my way. May I be faithful to be your hands and feet and voice. Amen.


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Love, Bless, Value

Reading: Mark 10: 13-16

Verse 16: “He took the children in His arms, and He blessed them”.

Our short passage today is about many things. It begins with a desire for a blessing. It includes a desire to see the “real work” of God being done. It includes an invitation with a nod to having such simple faith. It concludes with welcome, love, and blessing.

The passage begins with parents bringing their children to Jesus. It was the norm to have the rabbi bless the child. This usually occurred at the temple, much as baptism occurs in many of our churches. To bring them to this itinerant rabbi was similar – except there was something special about this Jesus. As parents we all want our children to be blessed, so we can relate to their motives here.

But the disciples try to intervene. Children were at the bottom of the social ladder, of little worth in society’s eyes. This was part of their trying to ‘protect’ Jesus. The larger part, though, was that this would distract Jesus from the ‘real work’ of ministry: preaching, teaching, healing. This was the disciples angle, to allow Jesus to work. We can all relate here too. How often we ignore or wish we could have avoided those trivial or unimportant things or people. That phone call, that knock on the door, that email – yes, maybe distractions. But maybe opportunities to minister to another.

Preventing the children from coming to Him upsets Jesus. He elevates their status – the kingdom belongs to these – and He recognizes their inner value – examples of how to receive love and God and faith. To demonstrate this, Jesus takes them in His arms and He blesses them. I envision this being a robust hug and a personal engagement with each child. I imagine the blessing is compassionate and loving and focused on each child. It is dedicated and intentional time. It is how we too should see and receive and treat all people, especially those that society deems unworthy and of little or no value. To these belong the kingdom of God.

Father God, how you love the children! Help me to love them as you do. May I never be too busy or too selfish – for then I miss the opportunities to love and bless those you send my way. In your name I pray. 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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In Love

Readings: Isaiah 42: 1-9 and John 12: 1-11

Verse Six from Isaiah 42: “I will take you by the hand. I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light to the Gentiles”.

Today’s passage from Isaiah speaks of the “servant of the Lord”. Through New Testament eyes we see the servant who brought justice to the nations as Jesus. Just as they put their hope in God’s ways, so too do we. In verse six we find a mix of speaking of Jesus and speaking to us, His followers. The God who gives breath to His people says, “I will take you by the hand. I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light to the Gentiles”. The image of God holding our hand as we go through life is an awesome image. The thought that God will keep us safe and secure is comforting. The words that speak of making us a covenant to His people and a light for Gentiles is a bit halting. At first these words bring us pause. We want to say that is Jesus’ work. It at the very least, that is the work of the pastor or priest. But God is speaking to us here too. We are to be in a covenant relationship with each other. In our church we have been defining that as an “I love you no matter what” relationship. We are also called to love outward – to be a light to the non-believers in our lives. Through loving all people as Jesus loves us, we will be a light.

In John’s gospel we see love being poured out. One week and a couple thousand years ago, Jesus and the disciples are in Bethany at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. As they relax after dinner, Mary – the one who had sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him teach – kneels again at Jesus’ feet and extends a gift of love to Jesus. Mary uses an expensive jar of perfume to anoint His feet. She then goes one step further and dries His feet with her hair. This act of love will be replicated when Jesus washes the disciples’ feet.

In both the Isaiah text and in Mary’s example we have “go and do likewise” calls. In Isaiah 42:7 we are called to open the eyes of the blind, to free the captives, and to release those living in darkness. When we do these things we truly love one another and we are light to the world. In the example of Mary, we are called to see the blind and lost and broken as both Jesus and as Jesus saw them. We are to recognize Jesus in all and to minister to these just as Mary did – in love. It was love that led her to go one step farther and that calls ud do the same. As we enter into Holy Week, may we seek to love all we meet as we minister to them as Jesus did and would – in love. May it be so, bringing honor and glory to God.


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Presence, Rest

Reading: Exodus 33:14

Verse 14: My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.

Today’s passage is one verse long.  It is given to Moses by God to reassure and encourage him.  It is a good promise for us to remember as well.

God’s presence goes with us in so many ways.  I think it begins with the situations and people that God brings into our lives.  These are both opportunities to share God with others and to experience God through others.  Sometimes in our lives we have the blessing of ministering to others and at other times we are ministered to.  When we respond to these opportunities, when we are open to the moving of the Holy Spirit in our lives, surely God’s presence is with us.

A few days ago I felt a nudge to go visit a friend who had experienced a very difficult loss.  I was going to be traveling through her state so I asked if we could have coffee.  As I drove yesterday, the Spirit was at work and the Lord placed upon my heart what I needed to share.  I was able to do that and it was a wonderful experience of being able to share God’s presence and love with a fellow child of God.

The second half of today’s verse is such a blessing too when we can get there.  Life does not get much better than when we can find that sweet spot of rest – whether in the recliner, out on the deck, on the couch in the afternoon sun, in the qiuet of the early morning.  But it can be so elusive!  Life is usually so busy and we go at such a non-stop pace that periods of rest can be hard to find.

One of the most restful times of the day can be our times of prayer and study.  If one is willing to carve out 15, 30, or even 60 minutes each day to spend time with God, then He will be both present and He will bring you rest.  In those quiet, still moments spent talking with God, He fills you with peace and rest for your mind and soul.  God renews your spirit.  Taking time to read and meditate on God’s Word is both nourishment and peace for the heart, mind, and soul.  He is surely present and certainly fills us up!

Lord God, may I dwell in your presence today and maybe honor you in all I do and say today.  May your Spirit grant me rest.  Amen.


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#1 Tradition

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-28

Verse 18: The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’.

Every year for Christmas my family gathers after church on Christmas Eve and we open one present.  The present is always the same: new pajamas.  For Thanksgiving every year we always have green bean casserole and chocolate chess pie.  It feels like we have been doing these things forever.

Our churches also have traditions.  Most churches do.  In today’s passage, Jesus is addressing one of these traditions.  It began like many of our church traditions did and has become almost law by this point.  One day long ago someone started something and soon enough it became tradition.  For the Pharisees that Jesus is addressing, these traditions were very important.  Many of their traditions or laws were based on generations of interpretations of the Bible.  Much of it therefore had come not necessarily straight from God but from man’s interpretation of the Word.  A good, modern day example would be baptism.  In the Bible we do have some examples of baptisms and some understandings of what it means and why one is baptized.  But there is no place in the Bible where it defines exactly how and when a baptism should occur.  Yet this topic causes division and differences and barriers between us.  The same can be said of communion.  I think this makes Jesus sad.

In today’s passage Jesus is dealing with a rule that creates a barrier.  Many of the religious traditions or laws created barriers to people because they kept people away from God.  Ritualistic and detailed handwashing became the rule for the Pharisees.  Eat without perfectly pristine hands and you know what happens…  But Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean'”.  He is saying that what is in a person’s heart is what makes them spiritually clean or unclean, not the condition of their hands.  If evil resides in our hearts, then we are unclean spiritually.  If good resides, then we are clean.  To Jesus, a person’s heart is what mattered.

Jesus’ most important question is: “Do you love me”?  For Jesus love was always the guide and the first consideration.  That’s why He ate with unclean sinners and why he healed on the Sabbath.  Love triumphed.  Faith is not about the tradition or the laws or the unwritten rules.  It is about letting love lead and serving and ministering to others in love.

What traditions or ‘rules’ create barriers in our churches?  How do we make love the #1 tradition or the rule?