pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.

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Open and Obedient

Reading: Acts 16: 9-10

Verses 9-10: “Paul had a vision… ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’… We got ready at once”.

The book of Acts is the story of the growth and building of the early church. In today’s passage Paul receives a vision from God, calling him to go to Macedonia. The man asks him to come and “help us”. Paul is an apostle who preaches the good news of Jesus Christ. He is also a tent maker who practices his trade to support his missionary efforts. When Paul receives a call from God, it is not to make tents or to mow lawns or to paint houses or to fix roofs or to sort clothing. Paul is sent to do what he does best – to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.

You and I probably won’t have such visions. We might. But we are more likely to be nudged or whispered to by the Holy Spirit. God remains just as active today as He was in Paul’s day. God continues to lead and guide His people to humbly share the good news and to serve others. It might be to mow a lawn or to paint a house or to fix a roof or to sort some clothing. The way God nudges or whispers can also come in many forms. It can be in a conversation with another, in an observation as we pass by or consider a situation, in an invitation from a stranger or friend to help them with an opportunity to serve.

After Paul receives his vision, “we got ready at once”. There was no delaying, there was no procrastination, there was no fear or doubt. “We got ready at once”. God called, they responded. Immediately. They were ready to fulfill the mission that God had given them. Paul and his companions began the journey to Macedonia so that they could “preach the gospel to them”.

Paul’s vision and our nudges… have some common threads. First, it is a call from God to share His love. Second, it is God asking us to respond as a humble servant, seeking to bring God glory and to make His name known. To accomplish the mission, we, like Paul, must be open to hearing God (or feeling the nudge…). Then we must be obedient to respond in faith and in trust. When we step out in faith we find that, like Paul, God will lead and guide us well, walking step by step with us. May we be open to God’s call and obedient to follow. May both be true each day.

Prayer: Jehovah God, you provide over and over. This day, when I feel the nudge or hear the call, may I respond faithfully and obediently. May I step forward, trusting in your love and care. Amen.


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Radical Love

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Verse 7: “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

The Servant faced scorn and suffering without retaliation or violence because God was with him. The Servant was able to go beyond the abuse as well. To the abuser the Servant willingly offered himself for more abuse. In doing so, the abuser will be led to question their own actions. It is love in the face of hate, giving in the face of taking. Jesus did the same over and over. For Jesus, it was summed up in His encouragements to love our enemies and to offer your other cheek to the one who has just struck you. Jesus also lived this out. At the end, from the cross, Jesus prayed for forgiveness for those who placed Him on the cross. Through God’s presence, Jesus was able to extend love instead of retaliating with hate. Like the Servant, Jesus lived out Isaiah 50:7 – “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

This idea is so counter to what the world teaches and does. It us a radical love that makes the world take notice. In the world, it is not just get even but get ahead. It is done with emphasis to discourage another run at one’s money or status or position or popularity. It is power used to remind the other of who really has the power. It perpetuates the imbalance. But Jesus’ radical love offers even more than the one wants to take. When someone demands the shirt off of your back, Jesus asks us to give them our coat as well. It is a willingness to give more than is demanded.

Isaiah and the example Jesus set are calling us to look for opportunities to show love in unexpected ways. Returning from school one year I was in a drive through at a fast food restaurant. The line was long and moving really, really slow. In the other lane I noticed a woman who was clearly becoming more and more aggravated with the situation. She was pounding the dashboard and the steering wheel. She was yelling at the air in her car. I could feel her exasperation. When I got to the window I paid for her order. It was just a random act of kindness that I hope improved her day just a bit. It was small. But it is what we are called to do – to look for and to respond to others in and with love. May we all be blessed with opportunities to offer Jesus’ radical love today.

Prayer: Lord, grant me eyes to see and a heart to feel. Allow me the words to speak and the hands to serve today. If I find myself suffering, may I trust fully in your presence with me. Amen.


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Deep Need

Reading: 1 Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 10: “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord”.

Yes, Elkanah loved Hannah more than anything in the world. Yes, Elkanah treated Hannah much better than his other wife. But shame of shames – Hannah could bear him no children. The second wife, Peninnah, had lots of children. Peninnah frequently reminded Hannah of this fact. This only added to Hannah’s already deep sadness and bitterness. Each year when the family would go up to the temple to worship, Hannah would bring her situation before God.

This particular year the provoking by Peninnah and the deep sadness over her barren state seemed especially painful. Instead of simply praying once more, we read, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord”. Hannah felt like she was at the end of her rope. It was not an ordinary prayer that she offered up to God. The Spirit was moving in her as she poured out her soul. This was a deep, gut-wrenching prayer. It was as ripe with emotion as it could get.

We too have uttered this type of prayer. We too have been at the end of our rope and have cried out to God. We too have been at the bottom of our pit and have begged for God to reach down and pull us out. We too have felt so desperate that the prayer just poured out from the core of our souls. Our circumstances or the cause of our situation may have been different, but we have all prayed like this before.

What does Hannah’s prayer reveal? What do our prayers of deep emotion reveal? First, they reveal our utter dependence on God. Sometimes we are weak, unable to alter the situation. But God can. Second, they reveal a trust in God not only to hear but to respond. He alone can rescue. He alone can save. God is faithful to Hannah. Samuel is born. God will be faithful to us as well. May we pour out our souls in those times of deep need, trusting in God to do what we cannot.

Prayer: God, thank you for the reminder today of your deep, deep love for us, your children. Like Hannah, may I always seek you in my deepest times of need, trusting in you and in your plan for my life. Amen.


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All the Time

Reading: Psalm 34:8

Verse 8: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him”.

The pastor or leader calls out, “God is good”! The congregation or group responds with, “All the time”! The one then calls out, “And all the time…” followed by the people’s response: “God is good”! This pattern is usually repeated two or more times, building each time. It is a great reminder of what our passage today is all about.

Our experiences in life teach us this truth if we are walking in faith. Even though the hurt is great in times of loss, when we turn to God we find strength and comfort and peace. God is good to us in our suffering. As we experience other trials, whether big or small, and when we look to God, when we pray to God, when we trust in God, then we again experience that God is good. If we are faithful and we turn to God in our times of need, we know the truth of this verse: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him”.

In communion we literally experience this verse. As the body of Christ, whether two or three are gathered or if it is the whole congregation, when we taste the bread and the juice or wine, we are physically reminded of how good the Lord was and is. When we “do so in remembrance of Jesus” we are blessed spiritually by His presence too as we confess and are made new.

We can also experience this in small but powerful ways. Earlier this week I volunteered in the concession stand at some local basketball games. Towards the end of the night, a young man that I had helped with his math the week before came up to the window with his dad. When he recognized me, he gave me the biggest smile and said hello. This small thing made my day and again reminded me of how good God really is. All the time, God is good!

O God, you are indeed so good. Thank you, Lord! In you I take my refuge time after time. You never fail me. You bless me with your presence and you walk with me. In the bright, sunny, good days sometimes I see you. Help me to see you always. Open my eyes to see you in the days of joy and plenty. You are good, O Lord. Thank you so much. Amen.


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Saying “Yes”

Reading: 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse Two: “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”.

In some ways, Paul’s view of ministry differs from ours today. He lists a handful of things that are commendable: trouble, hardship, distress, imprisonment, sleepless nights, hunger. While we are sometimes willing to endure these things for our faith, we do not often intentionally put ourselves out there to experience these things. Yet many people do endure these things. Today we journey home from a mission trip where we met lots of folks who experience these things on a daily basis.

Paul also gives us another list. He offers commendation for purity, patience, kindness, love, and truthful speech. These are characteristics that we all want to possess and share with others. These are the traits that we want to be known for. Yet, as Paul also acknowledges, we most often find ourselves between these two lists.

Paul shares that we usually find ourselves between bad and good reports, between being seen as genuine and as imposters, between dying and living, as sorrowful yet rejoicing, and as having nothing yet possessing everything. We often did find ourselves in the middle, tending towards one end or the other. We seek to be living for God, yet when we are honest, we spend a lot of time pursuing what we want and desire. It is a battle.

In verse two Paul writes, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”. The key word is ‘now’. It is an important word. On our mission trips we usually end up centering on a phrase or expression that seems to encapsulate the trip. This year what became our central thought was saying “yes” to those opportunities that God gives us, to answer when He calls. Many of our youth and adults had opportunity to do so this week. Great blessings were poured out from heaven upon both us and those we worked with because of the yeses.

The time is now. Today God wants to bless you with His favor. Today God wants you to experience His salvation. Today and each day may we ever be open to the opportunity that God provides – whether in hardship or joy, whether in sorrow or kindness. May we too be willing to say yes to God. Amen.


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The “Why”

Reading: Mark 3: 20-30

Verse 20: “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him”.

The big crowd gathered to hear Jesus teach. Our passage tells us that it is, well, so crowded that Jesus cannot eat. There is no room! Mark writes, “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him”. They think that Jesus is not taking care of Himself and they go to have a family intervention. This has gone on long enough! Truth be told, at one time or another, we have found ourselves in this situation. That big project is due tomorrow and we forego sleep and maybe even food. Our mom or spouse or roommate warns us about how we are living. Or maybe we just sneak into the office on a day off to “catch up” – and we get the look we deserve. But sometimes, like Jesus did, we too get a look because of our faith.

Sometimes our choices of faith get us that look. I think that Jesus did not eat because it meant less teaching time. Look at all the people who are here to hear the Word. In a similar way, we encounter people without faith who do not understand us sacrificing something for our faith. They have questions like, “Why would you help pay her electric bill when you know the lights will get shut off next month too”? They wonder why we would spend a week of vacation going on a mission trip instead of going to some resort in the Caribbean. Some even wonder why in the world we would get up early on a Sunday to go sit on some hard pews when we could sleep in on the one day we could. Lots of people wonder why we do this or that for some guy named Jesus who lived two thousand years ago.

When the looks come, how do we react? How do we respond – whether it is family coming to ‘save’ us or whether it is a friend trying to talk some ‘sense’ into us or whether it is an acquaintance questioning the ‘crazy’ choices we are making? I think we begin with the story of how Jesus makes a difference in our life. When we share from the heart what Jesus has and is doing in our life, people begin to get a glimpse of faith and to sense what Jesus offers them as well. Yes, how we live our life tells our faith story. But our words are important too. They fill in the “how” with the “why”. Our words build understanding. So today, may we introduce people to Jesus with our actions and decisions and may we begin to welcome them into a personal relationship with our words. May it be so today.