pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Constant, Universal

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-21

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

Today we find the culmination of the story of Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael.  It is the story of ignoring God’s promise and taking matters into ones own hands.  It is the story of jealousy, anger, abuse, betrayal, abandonment, and rescue.  Sarah has asserted herself and Abraham sends Hagar and ‘the boy’ off into the desert.  Isaac is Sarah’s son and the answer to God’s promise.  He will be the rightful heir.  It will be how the story unfolds as we read on in Genesis.

Yet a part of Abraham is conflicted, troubled.  Ishmael is his son, his flesh and blood.  Sending him off into the desert probably will not end well.  God speaks to Abraham and gives him assurances that ‘the son of your maidservant’ will also one day be the head of a nation.  ‘The boy’ will not die in the desert.  He has a future.  This reassurance allows Abraham to send them off into the desert, out and away from them forever.

This, however, is not quite the end of the story for Hagar.  Recall that she had been rescued by God once before.  Hagar would name God “the God who sees me”.  That God sees her again.  Just as she resigns herself to dying of thirst just yards from her son as he dies of thirst, God once again intervenes.  God calls out to her, “What is the matter, Hagar?  Do not be afraid”.  She too hears God’s promise for Ishmael and then God opens her eyes to see the water well that He has provided.  The passage ends with God’s continued care and provision through childhood and even into marriage.

Our God of love cares for those who are not ‘chosen’.  Hagar and Ishmael were part of Abraham and Sarah’s impatience and lack of trust in God.  On our human level, we would maybe want to see them off too.  They would remind us of our sin.  I am grateful that God loves all people, not just those who love or worship Him.  God’s love is constant; it is universal.  It is a love that Jesus would call us to follow and live out.  So when the Holy Spirit leads us to love the other, may this story remind us that God loves all of humanity so that we can go and do likewise.


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Radical and Generous

Reading: Genesis 18: 1-15

Verses Four and Five: Let a little water be brought… let me get you something to eat.

Abraham and Sarah receive three men and they extend gracious welcome to them.  They recognize them as strangers.  Abraham first requests that these three men stay for a while.  To help them in their decision, he offers, “Let a little water be brought… let me get you something to eat”.  In showing good hospitality, Abraham offers them a way to clean off the dust of their journey and a way to refresh themselves.  They prepare bread and meat for their guests, sharing abundantly with these three guests.  It is an illustration of generous hospitality.  The men stay and in the end bless Abraham and Sarah with the promise of a child, even though they are very old.

Often we too have the opportunity to offer welcome to the stranger.  On any given Sunday morning they are in our churches.  On any given afternoon we may cross paths with them on the street.  In these encounters at the personal level, do we quickly extend radical and generous hospitality?  Or do we quickly pass them by, instead focusing on our own needs and concerns?

On the national level, the larger struggle with offering radical and generous hospitality swirls around immigrants and refugees.  Most are seeking freedom or a better future, yet many do not receive a warm welcome.  We turn to fear and worse to deny welcome and to keep up a wall between us.  It is a struggle our nation has always had.  Being a place of freedom and the “land of opportunity” has brought millions to our country.  As Christians living here, what should our response be?

Of course, Jesus called us to love neighbor as self.  He illustrated the results of loving or not loving neighbor in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.  He lived the commandment to love others out with all He met so we would have plenty of examples to follow.  The blessing of Isaac was a great blessing to Abraham and Sarah.  For you and I, the stranger also offers great blessings.  It is only when we take the opportunity to engage the other and to offer our love through radical and generous hospitality that we experience the blessings.  This day may we live as He first loved us.


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Common Good

Reading: 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-13

Verse Seven: Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Imagine the top graduate from culinary school deciding she wanted to go be a bank teller.  Imagine the college graduate with a degree in electrical engineering deciding he wanted to go mow lawns.  Imagine the gifted accountant deciding she did not want to be on the Finance team because they meet the night she likes to go to the grocery store.  Imagine the Dad that is awesome with middle School boys deciding he would rather join the golf league on Wednesday nights.

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good”.  The Spirit gives each of us gifts (or talents).  Verses eight through ten lists off some of these gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, tongues…  Verse eleven reads, “to each one”.  It does not say gifts are only given to some people, but to all people.  When one looks out over a congregation, one realizes that there is a very gifted bunch of folks sitting there.  As we each move through life, most of us come to know what our gift is.  Sometimes it is our passion that leads us to our gift and sometimes we ‘Didn’t our gift by trial and error.

Throughout it’s 2000+ year history, the church has been built by the gifts of millions of people.  Some are famous – Paul, Peter, Martin Luther, John Wesley… – but most are just common people, being used by God.  This is where most of us fit in.  We do not have extraordinary gifts, we are just good at and passionate about something.  Paul writes in our passage about the church being one body with many parts.  That is my church.  It is probably your church too.  Those gifted musicians make up a pretty good choir or praise team.  Those gifted leaders and teachers are running a pretty good VBS.  That gifted group of gardeners has the church flowers and plants looking nice again.  That collection of carpenters and handimen and business owners we call the Trustees sure did a great job on the remodel.

Verse seven ends with: “for the common good”.  It’s what it is all about.  For the good of each other, for the good of the church, for the good of the community, for the good of our lost and broken world.  May we all joyously share the gifts we have been blessed with for the common good.


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Love, Obey Too

Reading: John 14: 18-21

Verse 21:  Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.

Jesus follows up His promise of the Holy Spirit with more words of reassurance in today’s passage.  The opening line reveals the intimacy and the depth of love that Jesus has for the disciples.  He tells them, “I will not leave you as orphans”.  They are family.  They are very closely connected together.  Jesus knows how incredibly difficult the next few days and weeks will be for the disciples.  These men left everything to follow Jesus.  And soon He will be physically gone.

“I will come to you”, He tells them.  Jesus reveals that the world will not see Him anymore, but that His followers will see Him again.  The risen and resurrected Christ will indeed visit the disciples and will be present with them.  They will know beyond any doubt that death could not hold Jesus.  He will talk and even eat with them.  “On that day” Jesus says, the disciples will realize fully that Jesus is in the Father and that they are in Jesus and Jesus is in them.  They will know the connection between God and Jesus and themselves.  They will know they belong to and live with Jesus in their hearts.  He will not leave them as orphans.

Lastly, Jesus returns to the concept of love and obedience.  He says, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me”.  For Jesus there is a definite connection between belief and action.  He says don’t just know my commands but obey them.  Don’t just say you love me but really show we love Jesus.  For Jesus, this means love by obeying.  Then we will be loved by the Father and by Jesus.  It is all about connection and relationship.

Jesus again returns to the promise to show Himself to those who love Him.  Jesus is often revealed to us in those whom we choose to love.  We can see Jesus in the eyes of a child at VBS.  We can see Jesus in the smile of the person on the street who we take time to feed and talk with.  Jesus lives in all of us.  He invites us to obey His commands and thus to reveal Jesus to the world through our love and action.  Jesus also invites us to encounter Himself in others – sometimes even in those we least expect to find Him in.  May it be so today.


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Saved

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-3

The psalmist cries out to God, “come and save us”.  This is a familiar prayer to us as well.  Most often when we pray this prayer (or one that is similar), we are seeking God in the here and now.  We are in the midst of something and we would like God’s help.  We want God to enter our situation, to intervene, to make things better.  God’s response may not be to do exactly what we want it to ‘fix’ the situation, but through prayer we certainly find peace, comfort, strength…

In a bigger sense of the word, we are “saved” once we accept and profess that Jesus Christ is Lord of our life.  Once we claim Jesus as Savior, we are living in a state of being “saved”.  This means we have the promise of eternal salvation through our personal relationship with Jesus.  This status does not change.  Through this relationship Jesus claims us as His own and we are then forever living in a state of salvation.

For the remainder of our days, we live knowing our final destination, yet always working to grow in our love of God and neighbor.  Once we are “saved” it is not the end point but rather the beginning of the journey.  Once we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are then ever living to become more and more like Jesus.  We grow to love others as Jesus lived others.  We grow to offer mercy and forgiveness more readily, like Jesus did.  We grow to place others ahead of self, like Jesus did.

As we move along the journey to become more and more like Jesus, we become more and more attuned to the needs of the world.  We see feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, standing against injustice, speaking truth into darkness, … as the stuff of everyday life.  As His hands and feet, we share Jesus’ love with many.  As we continue on our journey of faith, may we share bountifully.


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Servant

Reading: Luke 17: 5-10

In the opening verses of Luke 17, Jesus has just instructed the disciples to keep from sinning, to not lead others into sinning, and to always offer forgiveness to those who sin against them.  Then Jesus adds a point of emphasis: forgive up to seven times in one day.  Seven represents eternity for His audience.  Jesus is saying to forgive over and over and over and over and…  The disciples response to this idea is the opening line of today’s passage: “Increase our faith!”. In other words, if you are asking this of us Jesus, you better bump up our faith.

To this request Jesus offers a parable.  The main character is a servant.  Jesus often parallels being a disciple with being a servant.  The servant-master relationship is obe that would have been very familiar and well-understood by His audience.  A servant’s job is to serve the master.  Of course the servant would come in from a long day’s work and still waiting upon the master until all their needs are met before retiring for the day.  It is what servants do.  They put their master’s needs ahead of their own.  The servant doesn’t hang around on the periphery waiting for a nice ‘thank you’ either.  It’s just their job.

Then Jesus extends the understanding and application of the parable to the disciples and to us.  He says this too is how a disciple conducts themselves.  As disciples we are called to be servants not only to our Master but to all people as well.  We are called to serve others, to sacrifice for others, to set aside our own interests and wants for the needs of others.  We are called to place others before self.  In living out the Gospel, we are to simply love and serve all as Jesus loved and served all.  Today and each day, may we pray for and strive to live out of a servant’s heart.


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Suffering, Loving, Sacrifice

Reading: 2 Timothy 1: 8-14

“Join with me in suffering for the gospel”, Paul says to Timothy.  “Take up your cross and follow me”, says Jesus.  This idea that we too will suffer for our faith is a common refrain in the New Testament.  While most of us will certainly not face the cross like Jesus or be beaten and imprisoned like Paul, each of us will be called upon to willingly suffer for our faith.  To sacrifice is at the root of our faith.

Death and imprisonment do not threaten the typical Christian in the 21st century.  While we must acknowledge that this reality exists for some Christians in our world today, for most of us the suffering we are called to is of a different nature.  Some of the suffering we face will be caused by our faith.  For example, at times the choices to abstain from things or activities may bring a little persecution our way.  At other times choosing to speak up for one dealing with injustice or to stand up for one being bullied or abused may draw some negative attention our way.  Faith and following the way of Christ can lead to public suffering.

Our faith can also lead to more private suffering.  When we choose to give away or provide food or clothing or shelter to one in need it is at a cost to ourselves.  We live with less so another can have some.  When we choose time with God or church or family over work or some other secular pursuit we are sacrificing wealth or popularity or promotion.  This too can bring suffering.  When we choose to befriend or engage the outcast or ostracized or to walk with someone who is struggling in life, we sacrifice time and energy and may also open ourselves up to ridicule or persecution or some other form of suffering.  Faith calls us to live God with all we are and to love neighbor as Christ first loved us.  Faith asks us to place self after God and others.

As we live out our faith may we be willing to suffer and sacrifice so that all may come to know and experience Christ’s love, hope, and mercy through our extravagant love and servant’s sacrifice.