pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Merciful God

Reading: Romans 11: 1-2a and 29-32

Verse 1: “I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means”!

At times the news can be so hard to listen to. In this pandemic time we have all had moments or days or even weeks when the news of rising death tolls and of new spreading of COVID has left us empty, downcast, anxious. We, like many, have sometimes questioned where God is in the midst of all this. Has God finally rejected humanity? Paul asks this type of question.

Paul has just finished lamenting Israel’s unbelief. While some Jews have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, the vast majority have not. What had been a very tight circle that included just one nation has been opened wide as Christianity has spread to the edges of the known world. The Gentiles and potentially the whole world has been grafted into God’s family. It feels as if almost all of Israel is now on the outside looking in instead of being the only ones inside. Paul turns to this question: “Did God reject his people”? In essence, has God moved on?

God has fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Jesus Christ was born, lived among the Jews, taught of God’s love. He was crucified and buried. Jesus was resurrected. Right before their eyes the Messiah, the incarnate God, came, lived, and returned to the Father. Paul hypothetically wonders if the Jews have missed out. His response to the question is very decisive: “By no means”! God remains the God of Israel. And God is the God of a much larger family too.

Paul goes on that the rejection of Jesus is just one more season of disobedience. As God has always done, God will continue to be faithful, seeking ways to be merciful anyway. This too is our experience with God. On a regular basis we reject God, we are disobedient. Yet God still loves us. God still seeks to be merciful, to draw us back into relationship. God ever desires to wash us clean with his mercy. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Supremely loving and merciful God, thank you for your love and mercy. How do I say more? Thank you, thank you, thank you. Amen.


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Best News Ever

Reading: Romans 10: 5-15

Verse 12: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him”.

Christianity can be exclusive. Since day one it is something we have struggled with. In the very earliest church they thought one had to first be Jewish before one could become a Christian. Soon enough the Gentile Christians were trying to exclude the Jewish Christians. That is partially what Paul is addressing today. To the church in Rome and to all Christians today, Paul says, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him”. All people are loved by God. In similar writings Paul adds slave and free, young and old… to illustrate that God is for all people.

Religion in general has a long history of using beliefs and sacred texts as a means to justify exclusivity and sometimes violence. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and a host of other religions have fought wars, conducted purges, persecuted, imprisoned, … others outside of their faith. This is a fine line we walk. To have a belief system inherently makes one feel that their belief system is “right” or “correct”. If you didn’t, would your faith be worth having and following? But to use those beliefs to do harm of any kind crosses a line that Jesus clearly drew. A quick look at Jesus’ ministry, teachings, and life reveal a God who loves all people.

Tension existed between Jesus and the dominant religion because of his inclusiveness. Jesus interacted with all kinds of people deemed unclean, unholy, and unwelcome. His inclusion of prostitutes and Samaritans, of tax collectors and adulterers, of lepers and other infirm revealed the depth and breadth of God’s love.

Paul ends today’s passage with an encouragement to be like Jesus – preaching and teaching. It is also a claim to exclusivity: to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the whole world. We are called to go and tell of God’s love found in Jesus Christ. It is the best news ever. May we go and tell one and all.

Prayer: Lord of all creation and of all people, may I be a bearer of the good news. May I always tell of a love that conquers all things, defeats all barriers, and welcomes all people. Amen.


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Both New and Old

Reading: Acts 2: 1-21

Verse 4: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them”.

As we continue to look at Acts 2 we focus in today on communication. A small group of Jesus followers is gathered together and the Holy Spirit bursts in and settles on each one. At that moment, “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them”. The languages that they spoke matched up with the native tongues of the Jews that were drawn there and this helped them to connect to the story of Jesus Christ. As I shared yesterday, we each have our own unique “language” or experience that can speak into another person’s life, drawing them to our source of new life.

In this pandemic time we have had to learn and relearn how to communicate when we cannot be face to face. Many people became familiar with apps like Zoom and FaceTime and Google chat. Some of us even became somewhat proficient at using these platforms to gather for Bible studies and meetings and family birthdays… In many churches the leap was made to provide online worship as YouTube and Facebook Live and other platforms were quickly learned and used. Folks at home also had to adjust to how they heard and participated in online worship – honing their new communication skills.

We have also relearned some skills that we practiced back in the days without social media and cell phones. We call and talk on the phone, catching up and checking in on one another. We send actual notes and cards in the mail. Some have even had conversations with folks from afar – talking through windows and screen doors. It has been good to be reminded that the “old-fashioned” ways to communicate are every bit as good as texting, messaging, … It has been good for me, for us, to be reminded of the value of simply checking in, of reaching out, of connecting in more personal ways.

As we begin to work our way back to whatever our new normal is, may we continue to learn and use the technology when beneficial and necessary. But let us also hold fast to all of these “old” modes of communication as well because they are often more personal, more real, more valued to many. May all these things be so as we seek to share our faith each day.

Prayer: Lord God, sharing your love and hope and grace can happen in many forms. In this season you have reminded me of the value of personal communication in new and old ways. Thank you. Help me to discern how to best communicate these means of faith to others today and every day. Amen.


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Trust…

Reading: John 14: 1-7

Verse 1: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me”.

The encouragement to not be troubled (or worried or afraid) is one made often in the Bible. There are many things that can trigger fear to arise in us. In today’s passage the disciples fear what lies ahead. In John’s gospel Jesus has just predicted his death, paused to wash the feet of the disciples, and then predicted the betrayal by Judas and the denial by Peter. All of this must have been so much to take on in such a short time. It is no wonder Jesus says to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled”.

On our journey of life we too receive such bombshell news. It can range from a threatening medical diagnosis to the unexpected loss of employment. It can range from the ending of a significant relationship to the unwanted relocation to a new state or country. These and many more life events can suddenly skyrocket our levels of fear and stress and anxiety. In each of these cases we too need to hear Jesus’ voice as he whispers, “Do not let your hearts be troubled”. Perhaps you need to hear these words today. If so, Jesus wants to speak them to you.

Jesus continues on, telling the disciples and you and me to “trust in God; trust also in me”. The ability to trust comes from the words that Jesus speaks next in verses two through four. Yes, he is physically leaving the disciples. Yes, that is bombshell news. But. But. But he is leaving “to prepare a place for you”. We can each place our name in the phrase: “to prepare a place for John“, “to prepare a place for Sue”, “to prepare a place for ___”. He is doing so with a promise: “I will come back and take you to be with me”. We are not will not ever be left alone. This cuts through our fear. The assurance that Jesus gives calms the disciples’ hearts. It allows them to dial back the fear and doubt and worry. Only then can they hear the rest of Jesus’ words.

As our passage closes, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. No matter what life brings, these words bring hope, they build trust, they fight fear. Each day may we cling to them as we seek to walk in faith with our Jesus. As we do so, know that Jesus walks with us every step of the way. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Living hope, be present to each facing fear today. Assure each first of your presence. Then fill these with your love and peace. Surround us all with your light. In your light there is no darkness. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.


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Walk and Listen

Reading: Luke 24: 13-27

Verse 21: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel”.

As Cleopas and his traveling companion walked along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus they were discussing the recent events in the city. These two were followers of Jesus. As he joins them, they are surprised that their new traveling partner does not appear to know much about what has happened to their Jesus. I live in a community of about 3,000. As I read the weekly newspaper I realize that there are lots of things that go on in town that I had no clue about. On a smaller scale, there are things that go on in my church that I sometimes find out about after the fact. There are some things that I am sure I will never know about. Now, neither of these are on the scale of a crucifixion – to Jesus’ family and followers. But there were certainly people living in and visiting Jerusalem just knew that three more men were punished by the Romans.

The two men walking to Emmaus seem to know a lot about these recent events and seem pretty connected to the other followers of Jesus. The phrases “some of our women” and “our companions” indicate a closeness to the early group of disciples and followers. They also knew the physical details of what all has happened to Jesus. They know the facts. But, as seems to be the case with almost all of Jesus’ followers at this point, they have forgotten both what Jesus himself said would happen over and over as well as what the prophecies say in the scriptures concerning the Messiah. These two, like the rest, are doubting what the women have told them. Because the companions that went to the tomb did not see him, they all question if Jesus really could be alive. Surely, surely, surely if Jesus were alive he would have come and comforted them in their grief and explained all that was going on to erase their confusion. Surely.

Jesus begins this process with Cleopas and friend. Walking along the road to Emmaus he explains all that the scriptures say that has now been fulfilled in Jerusalem. These two men who were hoping that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel come face to face with their redeemer. In grace, Jesus meets them where they are at and ministers to them, providing what they need. He offers the same to you and to me and to all people who seek to walk with him. May we choose to walk with Jesus today, listening to all he has to tell us this day.

Prayer: Father of all, walk with me, whisper into my heart. Fill me with your presence so that I may serve you this day. Amen.


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The Opportunity

Reading: Acts 2: 37-41

Verse 39: “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call”.

The people that were drawn to the place that the church was gathered feel remorse over their role in crucifying Jesus. Yesterday we felt our role so today we can relate to how they felt. Their question of Peter is, “What shall we do”? Their hearts told them they needed to respond. It is a familiar feeling, isn’t it? We have felt it when we see someone in great need. We have felt it when we have sinned and have felt the conviction.

Peter’s response is basic Christianity 101: “Repent and be baptized”. Leave your old way of life and enter into new life with Jesus Christ. Leave behind your sinful ways and begin to walk as a follower of Jesus Christ. Leave behind not only your sins but the guilt and shame that we often associate with wrong-doing. In this case, Peter wants them to leave behind their remorse for their role in the crucifixion. Only then can they claim their new resurrection life as they begin to walk as new creations in Christ. As they make the good confession and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, they too will receive what drew them to this time and place – the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Then, in verse 39, we see Peter beginning to understand just what Jesus meant when he gave the great commission. In verse 39 Peter says, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call”. The idea of making disciples of all nations and of going to the ends of the earth are starting to settle into Peter. God will continue to work in and through Peter to make the gospel known. Many others will have a hand in sharing the good news – James and John and the other disciples, Paul and Timothy and Silas. The first disciples will teach new disciples. The work will continue on. The list of disciples of Jesus Christ goes on down through the ages. It continues to grow in 2020. The range of the church expands and now the gospel reached around the globe.

Yet there are still places that the good news of Jesus Christ has not yet taken root. One might be just down the street. One might be in the next office over from yours. One might be in the pew next to you when we once again can gather together. Peter took the opportunity to share the gospel as the opportunity presented itself. 3,000 were added to the church that day. May we, like Peter, make the most of the opportunities that God gives us. May we share the promises of resurrection with a world in need of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to share the good news today in whatever form I can. Give me words to speak, prayers to offer, actions to take. Lead me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Our Living Hope

Reading: 1st Peter 1: 3-9

Verse 8: “Though you have not seen him, you love him… you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy”.

Our passage begins with a proclamation of praise. Peter certainly loves the Lord. Then he gets right to the good news. Peter first reminds us that we are born again with a living hope through the mercy of Christ. In our daily living we have hope. He then reminds us that we also have an eternal hope. This inheritance or eternal hope is one that “will never perish, spoil, or fade” because Jesus Christ will never perish, spoil, or fade. He is Lord forever. Hope in this life and hope in the life to come. News does not get any better than that!

Peter then tells us that “though now for a little while” we will suffer some trials, we can rejoice even then because God’s power shields us. Perhaps Peter has read Paul’s words to the Ephesians encouraging the believers to put on the full armor of God. Peter acknowledges that these trials come to refine our faith. In this process, we mature in our faith and we come to the place of knowing with assurance that our faith is “genuine”. When we come to that place of deep faith and trust, it results in “praise, glory, and honor” being lifted up to God and lived out for Jesus Christ.

Today we have a faith based upon the testimony in the Bible and upon our personal experience of faith. As Peter writes to “God’s elect” so too does he write to us. We too love Jesus. In more words reminiscent of the risen Jesus’ words to Thomas, Peter writes in verse eight, “Though you have not seen him, you love him… you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy”. Because we too love the Lord, we are filled with joy. Joy and hope – two wonderful gifts to all who believe! These gifts are ours because we receive salvation through Jesus Christ. We are saved in this world through his mercy and we are saved to the next through his love and grace. What great sources of joy and hope! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, as I read these words from Peter and as I consider these thoughts, the song “Living Hope” comes to mind. Those words, these words – all reminders of the gift of Easter, all reminders that we are a people of the resurrection. It is a gift that I will never stop thanking you for. All praise and honor and glory are yours! Amen.


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Kingdom of Love

Reading: Amos 7: 10-17

Verse 15: “The Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people'”.

Our passage today is overcast. Amos has bad news to deliver and the people receiving it do not receive it well. The one who represents power, Amaziah the priest, basically tells Amos to be quiet and to go home to Judah. The powers that be do not want to hear that King Jeroboam will die and that Israel is headed off into exile. It is just not good news. At least not for Jeroboam and his allies.

In a general sense, today’s passage is a good representation of the Old Testament cycle. The cycle is: God’s people fall into sin, God sends a prophet, the people usually continue to sin, God brings punishment, they eventually repent. Once in a long while the king and people heed the warning. Most often, though, the pattern follows today’s reading. The sin begins with the king or leader and trickles down from there. For most, that means that life becomes more pleasurable, more fun, less rule bound. To hear Amos say that God is bringing their worldly lifestyle to an end is not good news for most of Israel. It is not surprising that they tell Amos to hush up and get on back to Judah. Things are not any better there. Under King Uzziah they are worshipping foreign gods and have abandoned the law of God. Amos has prophesied that fire will consume Jerusalem. They too have become followers of the world.

This cycle that includes a heaping dose of doom and gloom is a reason that many do not like to delve deep into the Old Testament. These is a lot of violence and punishment and death. Many, many prophets come to speak to the kings and to the people as God attempts to bring them back into covenant living. We cannot miss the fact that this is always God’s purpose, always God’s main desire. The prophet’s words, as is the case in today’s passage, are hard to hear and are rejected. Yet these words are not bad news to everyone.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”? This has long been true. God has always been a caring and good and benevolent God. The poor, the widows, the outcast, the marginalized have always had a special place in God’s world. These are the ones who would hear Amos’ words as good news. As the nation returns to walking in God’s ways, life gets better for these. Injustice and abuses of power lessen. Hearts and hands become more generous. The kingdom of love returns. This is good news for today too. May we ponder and live into our role in this kingdom of love.

Prayer: Lord, when I am faithful and walking closely with you, I see and feel the world differently. It is a world filled with more love. Help that to be my world today and every day, O God of love. Amen.


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Spirit Presence

Reading: John 16: 12-15

Verse 15: “The Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you”.

As one looks at the scope of the Bible, from the beginning in Genesis to the end in Revelation, one constant that we see is God working to be in relationship with humanity. Because we are imperfect, we throw curves into God’s plans. This does not deter or weaken God’s desire to be in relationship with each of us, his children. God just finds another way to draw us into relationship.

In the beginning, Adam and Eve walked and talked with God. They were tempted and sinned, creating a physical separation between humanity and God. The spiritual connection remained. For many years God spoke to his people through prophets and visions and dreams. Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and many others were used by God to help his chosen people live in relationship with God. After the last prophet, Malachi, spoke there was a long period where the people did not hear from God via prophetic voice, yet they still had the Torah or law to guide their lives. Then, after about 400 years, a voice was heard in the wilderness. John the Baptist came, preaching a baptism of repentance to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

In Jesus, God took an extraordinary step. God chose to take on flesh and to walk among us in the person of Jesus Christ. Living in and amongst humanity, Jesus revealed what it looked like to see God’s love lived out. He also experienced what it was like to be tempted and to feel emotion. During his ministry, Jesus taught and healed and lived in relationship with us. Jesus chose to engage the lost, the broken, the outcast, the marginalized, and others who were considered sinners in order to help them also have a relationship with God. Jesus set the example for what it looked like to live out God’s love in this world. Upon departing he commissioned all who would follow him to do the same, going forth into the world to make disciples of all peoples and nations.

When it came time for Jesus to make his final departure, he promised that the “Spirit of truth” would come. This Spirit would continue to guide and lead Jesus’ followers, filling the disciple with all that is needed to walk in relationship with God. Jesus told them and tells us, “The Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you”. Dwelling in our hearts, the Spirit is the constant presence of Jesus, ever revealing God’s will and love to us. With the Spirit in us, humanity is once again able to live out our relationship with God a physical and tangible presence within our hearts. The Spirit walks and talks with us daily, empowering us to go forth to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a world in need. May we do so today.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for returning to walk and talk and live out daily life with me, with all of your children. Through the Spirit, you are as close as my next breath. Lead and guide me today to share your love with those in need of knowing your love. Amen.


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Open Heart

Reading: Acts 16: 11-15

Verse 14: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message”.

As we read the second half of this week’s passage from Acts, a theme continues: God is at work. A vision came to Paul and he obediently followed it. In today’s section Paul travels and comes to Philippi, the leading city in Macedonia. Likely having no synagogue yet, Paul and his companions head to a likely place for people to gather for prayer – along the river. Beside the river they find a group of women praying and they sit down to talk with them. Paul starts to preach about Jesus.

The group of women gathered at the river are a group of God-worshippers. On the Sabbath, the holy day, they have gone to a special place to pray. Among them is a woman named Lydia. She is from another town but her business has brought her to the bigger city. There is more of a market for her purple cloth. This is a luxury item so we can assume Lydia is a person of wealth. At some point in her life she has encountered the Jewish faith and became a proselyte, a convert to faith. Lydia goes to the river to practice her faith by worshipping and praying to God. Her she encounters the man called by God in a vision to “come… and help us”. As Paul shares the good news of Jesus Christ, “the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message”. God goes to work and opens Lydia’s heart to respond to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Lydia’s response leads to two actions. First, Lydia and her whole household are baptized into Christ. She makes a public profession of Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. She and her household join the family of faith. Second, Lydia extends hospitality to Paul and his companions by inviting and persuading them to come and stay at her house. Both of these actions are also the hand of God at work in Lydia’s life.

Like with Paul, part of today’s story is about our response. God nudges or prompts Lydia by opening her heart. It is up to Lydia to invite Jesus to step through that opening, to allow Jesus to come into her heart. The next nudges come and again Lydia is responsive – being baptized and then generously offering her home to Paul and his companions. What a willing heart Lydia has!

As we live out our days, may we be as receptive and responsive and open to God’s lead as Lydia was. May we too seek to be obedient to God’s hand at work in our lives.

Prayer: Leading God, open my heart too. Pry wide open my tight control and my love of order and routine. Free me to respond more quickly and more obediently to the opportunities in my life to preach the good news and to help others commit to you. Amen.