pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Willing

Reading: Psalm 122:1 – “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord'”.

Each Sunday many of us live out these words. It is a wonderful and awesome thing when we gather to worship the Lord. There is a peace and a comfort, a majesty and a power, when we gather in the sanctuary to pray and sing and proclaim God’s word. As we are on the edge of Advent, there is an elevated sense of anticipation and even a bump in our level of hospitality. The Advent themes of peace, hope, love, and joy add to the depth of our worship and to the overall experience of the season.

As Thanksgiving looms tomorrow, many of us will be thankful for our church homes, for our church families, and for the many other ways that God blesses us. May we rejoice in these gifts from God! But may our rejoicing also remind us that there are many who go without these this time of year. There are a variety of reasons for this. None are absolute barriers. Our joy and celebration with God can work in two ways. It can elevate their absence in those who do not know or experience these things. Or it can draw them in. As disciples yet living under the great commission to go out into the world, teaching others about Jesus, may we be invitational this sacred time of the year. May we offer radical hospitality, especially to those without a church home and without a relationship with Jesus Christ. Through us, may our friends and neighbors who do not have these blessings feel our love and God’s love drawing them in. May we all be willing.

Prayer: God of all, through me offer words of invitation and welcome, words of hope and belonging. Make our church and the people in it a safe and blessed space and family. May your love flow out, being poured into others today. Amen.


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A Model to Follow

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 3: 6-9

Verse 9: “We did this in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow”.

As the church in Thessalonica begins to develop, there are some growing pains. It is to be expected with most new organizations. Paul and others have come and taught the good news of Jesus Christ. They have taught new believers what it looks like to live out the gospel in a community of faith. Paul and the others could not stay there forever, so now the church continues along on their own. As it does so, new churches need occasional reminders and sometimes they need the ones who planted it to come back for a refresher course.

Most of the content of Paul’s letters falls into two categories. He often writes to continue teaching both churches and individuals about how to live out the faith. These instructions can be applied to most churches and to the lives of most believers. Paul also writes to bring correction or to address as issue. These passages tend to be more direct and address a certain church, believer, or group of believers. Yet, at times, even these can be applied to churches and people. Our struggles are often the same. We find both of these categories in 2nd Thessalonians.

In the section we read today, Paul is addressing two groups that are having a negative impact on the church. There are some who are idle – they are not willing to work. They are simply relying on the generosity of others to get by. Paul reminds them that this was not the example that they set. Paul and friends “worked day and night” so that they could contribute rather than be a burden. Churches today have idle folks. Some are those that come around only when they need something. Others are those who are present but never give. They do not serve in the church and they do not give financially. They come and take and go back home.

Paul also addresses those who “do not live according to the teaching” that was given. Being idle would be one example. Similarly, in churches today, there are people who fall into this category. They come on Sunday morning or Saturday night and worship and bow their heads and listen to the message. Then they go out the door and live a worldly life. Their faith has little or no impact on the other 167 hours of their week.

To all of these Paul says, “We did this in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow”. We, like the church in Thessalonica and like the believers that made up that church, are all works in progress. At times we must pause and consider our progress and seek out areas where we are falling short. Is Paul speaking to you today? Could you offer more to your church? Could your walk of faith be more consistent or be closer to the example set by Jesus Christ?

Prayer: Lord God, as I consider these questions, I know I am far from the example set by Paul and especially far from the example set by Jesus. Draw me deeper into you and your love today. May this love be reflected out in all of my life. May it be so, O God. Amen.


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In Mission?

Reading: Haggai 1:15b – 2:5

Verse 5: “This is what I covenanted with you… my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear”.

Haggai the prophet is sent to the people who have returned to Israel and are working to restore the city and the temple. The bulk of the exiles remain in Babylon. The work has been slow and has had plenty of obstacles and challenges. God sends Haggai to Zerubbabel the governor, to Joshua the high priest, and to the remnant – the people who have come back to Jerusalem. God’s purpose in sending Haggai is to encourage, to remind, to recommit them to the task at hand. The temple is not what it once was. Some there now can remember the beauty and splendor and glory of the old temple. What appears to be shaping up pales by comparison.

The situation into which Haggai speaks brings to my mind the current state of affairs in my denomination, the United Methodist Church. Many cannot or will not consider that maybe God is doing a new thing. An equal number believe God is in the process of doing just this thing. One group seeks to hold fast to the Biblical truths that have always been truth. Others believe God is speaking a new word into our time. Both sides have dug in and their agenda has become their focus. What has been sacrificed is the mission of the church: to make disciples for the transformation of the world.

For Zerubbabel and Joshua and the remnant, the voices of doubt and discouragement, the pressures applied by those not wanting to see things rebuilt, the weight of continuing to work for God in the midst of all the turmoil – it led them to a place of resignation and despair. I am sure there were still some that held onto God’s vision of rebuilding, but the majority had lost it. To the majority, God said, “Be strong… I am with you”. The Lord Almighty goes on in verse five to say, “This is what I covenanted with you… my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear”. Through Haggai, God’s message is to be strong, to take courage, and to know that God is present and in control.

The message remains true today. As Christians we are called to follow Jesus as we seek to grow in our faith in him and as we seek to be in mission to the world. Yes, some still visit the jail and others care for those in the care centers. But the majority has lost the focus on mission. The eyes and hearts are largely turned inward. The mission of the Christian church universal remains the same that it always has been: to make disciples for the transformation of the world. This was Jesus’ driving focus. May it be ours as well.

Prayer: God of heaven and earth, when I too get sucked down by all that surrounds the church, pour your strength and courage upon me. Remind me over and over that you are in control. Lead me to step where you guide as I seek to live in mission to the church and to the community. Use me today O God. 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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Soul Thirst

Reading: Psalm 42: 1-5

Verse 2: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God”?

In Psalm 42 we hear of a longing to be in God’s presence. On our own journeys of faith we too can have days or even seasons when it feels like there is a distance between God and ourselves. Sin can create separation, but we also experience times when we have not sinned and yet we sense a distance. At times we have echoed these words from the psalmist: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God”? We long for that connection with God and God seems to be nowhere near us at that time.

The psalmist goes on to express sorrow because he cannot answer the men’s question concerning where God is. Almost to remind himself more than to answer their question, he remembers times when he would lead the procession up to worship. He reminds himself of the shouts of joy and thanksgiving coming from the crowd. This is a good idea. When our soul or when others ask about God’s presence and we come to realize it is not there, it is good to remember corporate times when it was there. These thoughts can prompt us to turn back to those practices that helped us experience God’s closeness and presence.

In verse 5 we get more questions. Why is my soul downcast and disturbed? When God feels distant, this is a natural emotional state to find oneself in. The psalmist quickly reminds himself to hope in God, to remember the actions of God in the past. Deciding to put our hope in God when one cannot feel God’s presence is a step of faith. It is trusting that God is still in control. Remembering the events and situations when God has done things in the past also helps to build that hope and trust. The psalmist recalls times along the Jordan and on Mount Mizar. We can recall times at church or at camp, at small group or in personal study, when God acted in a tangible way in our past. This leads to trust and builds hope in our God.

We all experience what the psalmist is experiencing. The steps to remember are the same as well. Through those times that we feel disconnected, may we think back over the journey so far, declaring our faith that God is in control and that God loves us dearly.

Prayer: Lord, when I feel alone, help me to first turn to you and to my story of faith. Remind me over and over of all the times and ways that you have been present to me. Allow that to rekindle the connection. Amen.


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Choice

Reading: John 14: 25-27

Verse 27: “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”.

Fear and doubt can be something that invades our hearts and minds. We can experience these emotions for perfectly good and logical reasons, in situations where it is natural: when a large growling dog rapidly runs at us, when we loose control of our car on an icy road… We can also experience these emotions for reasons that are not grounded in reality. We can become fearful in a situation where we are very safe and protected. We can doubt when we have the physical tools and abilities to be successful.

As Jesus looked into the days soon to come for Himself and for the disciples, He knew they would face fear and doubt. Jesus would soon be handed over to the authorities. They would try, whip, beat, and crucify Him. They would strike the shepherd and the sheep would scatter. If we were in their shoes, we would act exactly the same way. Jesus again reminds them that they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to teach them and to help them remember all that Jesus said and did. The Holy Spirit will be their first help in times of fear and doubt. He then leaves them His peace. It is the peace of God that also offers help to us to counter fear and doubt. The sense that we are not alone and the sense that God’s peace carries us often keeps fear and doubt at bay. Because of these things, Jesus concludes by encouraging the disciples, saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”. In this statement Jesus is implying that we have a choice.

When doubt and fear begin to rise in our hearts and minds, we can let them have the day. Or… we can choose to let God have the day. We can turn to God in prayer, confident that the Holy Spirit is already interceding for us. We can stand on God’s promises and allow His peace to wash over us. It is a choice we make. If we don’t we will struggle with fear and doubt in unhealthy ways. May we choose the all-powerful God who can and will do all things for those who love Him. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, when my heart and mind begin to feel fear and doubt, may you be my first choice always. When I waver, send in your Holy Spirit to remind me of your love and care for me. Amen.


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A Home of Love

Reading: John 14: 23-24

Verse 23: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teachings… We will come to him and make our home with him”.

The word “home” conjures up many memories. It is the place we lay our head down at night. Right now, for me, home is the grey house across the street from the church I serve. It has been filled with our stuff, but what makes it home is the memories created with family and friends and even surprise guests. Many homes are filled with such memories. Each of our memories are built around and upon a relationship. It is these relationships and the attached memories ethat make a house into a home.

The key to our most important relationships is love. The relationships that matter the most in our lives are built upon love. It is love that leads us to be selfless and more concerned with the well-being and happiness of the other. In our passage today, Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teachings”. In our relationship with Jesus, love is demonstrated with obedience to His teachings or commands. The first two commands that we are told to work on were loving God with all that we are and loving our neighbors as Jesus first loved us. Both of these are not always easy to do. That is why God offers us some help. Jesus goes on to say, “We will come to him and make our home with him”. If we love and obey Jesus, He will come and dwell in our heart.

Jesus just waits for us to extend that invitation. Once we do, it is the indwelling presence of Jesus Christ that makes it possible to live in love. The Holy Spirit is given and it leads and guides, it reminds and convicts, helping us to walk in love. When we ask Jesus to make a home in us, we are inviting love to lead us. It is through that love that we build our relationship with Jesus deeper and deeper. May we each love well today.

Prayer: God of love, walk with me today, helping me to be love to all I meet. Make my words, my thoughts, my actions all point to the love of Christ in me. Amen.