pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Moments of Faith

Reading: 2 Kings 5: 9-18

Verse 17: “Please let me… be given as much earth as two miles can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord”.

Naaman humbles himself and does what Elisha told him to do. It seemed so simple. On the journey over to Israel and then to Elisha’s house, Naaman must have envisioned some grand process to be healed. He must have thought a lot about returning to normal life. He would no longer be an outcast. No longer would his only human contact come through the violence of battle. No longer would others look at him in disgust. There would be a lot of emotions inside of Naaman.

After dipping himself seven times in the Jordan, Naaman’s flesh is restored, becoming “clean like the flesh of a young boy”. Healing! Healing! Naaman and his folks head back to Elisha’s to give him the thank you gifts that they brought. Elisha refuses the gifts. The proud Naaman would have become angry and perhaps left the gifts in a pile in the road. But Naaman is not so proud any more. He knows how he was healed: by the one true God. We cannot miss Naaman’s request: “Please let me… be given as much earth as two miles can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord”. He wants dirt. He must return home to continue his service to the king. But he wants enough dirt to stand or kneel upon to worship God. This request shows how grateful he is for his healing and how moved he is by God. To take a physical piece of Israel home to worship on speaks volumes about the impact of the healing upon Naaman. He wants to remember his God moment.

This is something we all do. As I look back over my faith journey, I can recall images of God moments. These experiences are etched in my mind. There are also physical items – like Naaman’s dirt. Each item is tied to a faith experience that moved me forward on my journey of faith. Take a moment or two and recall your God moments. Join me in thanking God for each and every one of them.

Prayer: Living God, thank you for the many ways and times that you have touched my life, reminding me over and over of your love for me. Please continue to do so. Amen.


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You Will Be Blessed

Reading: John 13: 2-7 and 31-35

Verse 5: “He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him”.

The alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, the Lord and Savior of the world gets up from the table and takes off His outer clothing. The Messiah, the King of Kings, the One who is to come wraps a towel around His waist. “He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him”. God’s only Son, the risen and eternal one, the Good Shepherd, our Redeemer humbles Himself and becomes the lowest of all. Jesus tells the disciples that they do not yet understand what He is doing, but that they will understand later.

Jesus goes on to explain that, yes, they rightly call Him ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’. Jesus is both of these things but so much more. In verse 15 He says, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you”. Jesus willingly set aside these titles, all I listed above, and more. He humbled Himself once more, laying aside all status, all selfishness, all pride, to kneel and wash some feet. Jesus models what He expects His disciples and followers to do. In verse 17 Jesus states, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them”. The washing of feet is no longer culturally a symbol of humble servanthood. But there are still many ways that we can be a humble servant to others. There are many tasks that we can willingly take on that demonstrate the love of Christ to others. Jesus names many: clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the lonely and imprisoned, care for the sick, give to those in need, befriend the outcast and marginalized, be present to those walking in the valley of grief, loss, depression, or addiction. We too are called to lay aside our titles, our status, our importance, our stereotypes, our stigmas,… to be in ministry to each other and to the world.

Our passage today concludes with a new command. Jesus commands the disciples and us: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another”. To love as Jesus loved is a pretty extraordinary command. His love was unlimited and unconditional. It was a love that knew no bounds. He concludes today’s passage by giving the impact of loving this way: “by this all will know that you are my disciples”. May we be well known.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, use me today as you will. Give me eyes to see the opportunities and a heart to love into them. May it be so. Amen.


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Share and Connect

Reading: Mark 6: 14-29

Verse 14: “King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known”.

Faith is all about our experiences and our connection to God, Jesus, and others. In today’s passage, the first part of the conversation connects Jesus to several other people or groups that were connected to God. In this way, we come to know more about Jesus.

First, Jesus is connected to John the Baptist. Herod and guests wonder if Jesus is John reborn because of the miracles that Jesus is performing. As we remember the stories of John’s and Jesus’ births, we recall that both were miraculous births. We also recall the angel’s visits and John’s recognition of Jesus while both were yet in the womb. In his ministry, John fearlessly spoke truth into people’s lives and called them to walk more holy lives. These things will become central to Jesus’ ministry as well.

Next, they wonder if Jesus is Elijah returned. Both men offer miracles as proof of connection to God and both men freely speak the word that God gives them to speak. Both men clash with those in power – calling them to be better followers of God and His ways. Elijah’s final moments on earth also foreshadow Jesus’ ascension into heaven as God lifts them up.

Lastly they compare Jesus to the “prophets of old”. The Old Testament prophets collectively connect well with Jesus. The prophets of old provided for the widow in need, withheld rain for a time, went up the mountain to speak to God, and called out those who worshiped idols and false gods. We see much of this in Jesus’ ministry. Care for the poor and the outcast were a high priority for Jesus. Calming the storm and walking on water demonstrated Jesus’ power over nature. His frequent trips up the mountain and to other isolated places to connect with God were important times of communication, renewal, and reassurance for Jesus. The conversations with religious leaders and everyday people were both opportunities to teach, to guide, and to correct – all to draw people closer to God. In many ways, Jesus connects to the prophets of old.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is the fuller revelation of God. It makes perfect sense that Jesus and His ministry would connect to others who served God and sought to build the kingdom here on earth. Our faith experiences also further the revelation of Jesus to the world. Through these connections and through our faith experiences we have much to share with others that can help them to connect with Jesus. May we be willing to share both who we know Jesus to be historically and personally, helping others to know Him as well. May it be so today. Amen and amen.


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Engaging

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 7-12

Verse Ten: “… so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body”.

Today’s passage has this idea that we have something inside of us that we share with the world. In our perishable and finite bodies, these jars of clay, we have this “all-surpassing” power that assures us of the eternal and infinite promise of heaven. It is the source of this hope and promise that we share with the world.

Verse ten reads, “… so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body”. Our call is to be followers of Jesus. Figuratively, this means to walk as Jesus walked. As we look at how Jesus walked, we see that He often walked with the sick and the marginalized, with the sinner and the outcast, with the lonely and the spiritually hungry. Jesus engaged one and all as He walked in this world. It seems as if Jesus always had time for the one He found standing before Him. This is the picture of the man that we are called to follow.

This following is not easy. Paul writes of the challenges we will face – hard pressed but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. Yes, following Jesus and walking in the places and with the people that He walked with will be hard. I’ll add one more: hard but not impossible.

Paul also writes, “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake”. When Jesus is alive in our hearts and in our lives, we do offer ourselves willingly to others. We are willing to die to self and to our own selfish desires, putting the needs of others ahead of our own. This verse finishes with these words: “so that His life may be revealed”. So that others may come to know Jesus Christ too. So that others may take hold of the hope and promise that we profess.

Where can you walk as Jesus walked today? Is there a jail or prison nearby to visit? Is there a care facility or hospital that you could stop by? Is there a place in your community that feeds people or hands out food? Is there a family in your neighborhood that could use a bag of groceries? Us there an elderly neighbor who needs their lawn mowed?

May we each find a way to walk as Jesus walked – engaging the one who is in need, offering ourselves to them.


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Hope and Promise

Reading: Genesis 25: 19-34

Verses 22 and 23: The babies jostled each other within her… two nations are in your womb.

In our passage from Genesis 25, there is a lot going on.  Isaac gets married but Rebekah is barren.  Isaac prays about this and she becomes pregnant.  Turns out Rebekah is carrying twins, which fight a lot in the womb.  Two very distinct boys are born and each parent develops a favorite.  Verses 22 and 23 speak of this: “The babies jostled each other within her… two nations are in your womb”.  This would be an ongoing relationship for Jacob and Esau.  In the end, the younger ‘buys’ the older’s birth rite with a bowl of stew because the older was hungry.

In the early part of our passage, Isaac turns to God in prayer for the solution to a problem.  Isaac has experienced God’s faithfulness in his own past.  He himself was an answer to a similar prayer by his father.  Isaac also experienced God’s answer to a problem personally.  First, it was he who was laid on the altar to be a sacrifice to God.  But in response to Abraham’s faithfulness, God provided a different solution.  Second, in needing a wife for his son, Abraham trusted his servant, who also trusted God fully.  The solution to this was Rebekah.  So when Isaac goes to God, he expects God to work.  Like Isaac, we too have experiences with God working in our lives.  So, like Isaac, may we pray believing God will answer.

Between Esau and Jacob, the unlikely one comes to have the inheritance.  This is the opposite of how it should be.  As a general rule, the Israelite people would be upset with this story on principle.  But they love this story because clearly God is at work on behalf of His chosen people.  In it they see their story.  In many ways, this is a common story.  God often chooses the unlikely, the least, the outcast, the underdog.  Over much of their history the people of Israel have been the little guy, the weak nation, the underdog.  Even for the New Testament, Jesus came from the small town, from insignificant parents.  Paul was the greatest enemy of the new church yet came to be its greatest champion.  God chooses the unlikely, the unexpected, the unknown.

When taken together, these two elements of the story bring us hope and promise.  In times of honest and genuine prayer, we know that God can and will answer.  He is faithful and this brings us hope.  In terms of our lives as followers of Jesus Christ, we know that God can and will use anyone.  Even you and me.  This is God’s promise.  This day, may our prayers seeks to live into these two elements – hope and promise – as we love and serve the Lord today.


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One Step

Reading: Luke 19: 6-10

Once again Jesus reaches to an outcast.  Once again Jesus looks past what is a barrier to others and lives one in need.  Zacchaeus certainly was not in need financially because he was a rich man.  Zacchaeus was in need of love and acceptance.  Because of his job, Zacchaeus probably spent life largely alone, without any real friends.  When Jesus calls out to Zacchaeus, many in the crowd grumbled with disapproval.  Zacchaeus’ ill-gotten wealth has drawn much dislike for the crowd.

At times we too act in certain ways and do certain things that cause others to dislike us or to remain at a distance from us.  Sometimes we can be like Zacchaeus, mistreating others for our own gain or purposes.  Sometimes we can fall into sins of other types, causing others to look down on us or to treat us like an outcast.  Sometimes we act in ways that cause people to think, ‘Jesus, don’t go near that one today’ or to think that Jesus could never call out to us.

Yet He does.  No matter what, Jesus always calls out to us.  He continues to call us out of our trees and into relationship with Him.  No matter our sin, Jesus continues to seek us when we are lost.  Like Zacchaeus, we are always just a simple confession away from a righteous relationship with Jesus Christ.  Like Zacchaeus, we are always just one step away from forgiveness and new life in Christ.  For this we say, thanks be to God.