pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Preaching, Teaching, Healing

Reading: Matthew 9: 35-38

Verse 35: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching… preaching… and healing”.

Today’s short passage sums up Jesus’ ministry quite well. In verse 35 we read about the things that occupied most of his time: teaching, preaching, and healing. I believe that these three practices remain the core practices of ministry today. These three practices often work together to shape and form who we are as people of faith.

Teaching can occur in many settings and can cover many topics. In ministry, we most often think of Bible studies and other topical small groups as the main ways that teaching occurs. This tends to be the focus of teaching in our churches. There are other ways to teach faith. In intentional conversations and in the things we regularly do and say we teach about faith. For example, as parents our everyday words and actions are the main methods of passing our faith along to our children. In this time of COVID there has been a great deal of teaching in our churches on how to safely minister while honoring the need to social distance and stay at home. We have begun to teach about safely gathering again. More recently there has been an increase in teaching on racism and prejudice in America. These teachings have centered on understanding racism and on recognizing how we are all implicit in and impacted by this evil. Social justice has always been a cornerstone of Christianity.

Preaching is something we think just happens on Sunday morning or maybe on a Wednesday or Saturday night. These are the primary delivery times but it also occurs at various times in a variety of settings. These can range from a one-on-one conversation to retreats and camps and even to impromptu gatherings in a bar or the local coffee shop. In almost all cases, preaching centers on sharing, understanding, and applying faith to our daily lives.

Healing was the third aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Today we do not see as many physical healings as we read about in the New Testament. But the Holy Spirit is very active, working in and through Christians all over the world. Healing included restoration to wholeness, redemption from sins and bondage, being drawn into a community of faith, and finding new life in Jesus Christ.

In our passage we read that Jesus preached, taught, and healed for one reason: compassion. He saw those who were in need – the “the harassed and helpless” – and he ministered to them. Our very understanding of who is harassed and helpless has certainly grown over these last few months. In verse 37 Jesus notes, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”. May we all be workers for Jesus Christ today!

Prayer: Leading God, day by day help me to use all three of these practices to minister to my congregation and to my community. Empower me by the Holy Spirit to bring fullness and wholeness of life to those in need. Amen.


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Decision Points

Reading: Genesis 12: 1-4a

Verse 1: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you”.

As human history begins and the world gets started, the general direction is downhill. It began in a beautiful way in the garden but soon sin corrupted even that place. The flood was only a temporary reset. Sin and evil began to flourish almost as soon as Noah and family exited the ark. Today we turn to Abram. He was chosen by God to be another starting point.

God identifies Abram and one day says to him: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you”. Imagine how hard that might be to do – especially when the destination is unknown. Pack up everything and I’ll let you know which way to go. Talk about taking a step of faith. God chose the right guy. Abram is just one of many who obediently step out in faith.

We too come to decision points in our lives. What college or major? Is he/she the one for me? Do we accept this job and move to ___? Am I being called to change careers? The answers to these questions (and more like them) do much to shape and form who we become. While this is true, I believe the line goes something like this: “The proof is in the details”. The decisions and choices that we make each and every day are what really reveal who and whose we are. The ways we love God and love others, the faith and trust that guides our lives, the compassion and grace that steers our relationships, the humble servsnt’s heart – these are the qualities that lead us to our career, to our spouse…

calls out to us each day as the Holy Spirit leads, guides, convicts, corrects, nudges, whispers. At each big decision point and at every small decision point, may our faith be our guide. If put to it like Abram was, may we too step out in faith, trusting fully in God.

Prayer: Lord God, the decisions I make today – the thoughts, the words, the actions – all shape and form me. They lead to who I will be tomorrow. Shape and form me more into your image. Amen.


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Consuming Fire

Reading: Exodus 24: 12-18

Verse 17: “The glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire”.

Fire is often associated with God. As Moses ascends the mountain in response to God’s call, he walks into the fire. In verse seventeen we read, “The glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire”. The consuming fire is not destructive or life-taking. God’s fire is transforming and life-giving. In this sense it is like a forest fire. Fire is nature’s way of renewing and sustaining life in the forest. Fire consumes all the old, dead wood, allowing space for new growth. Fire also causes some seeds to germinate, bringing new life. At times, God’s fire is also like a forest fire in another way. It may run wild through our lives, moving quickly and powerfully, burning up the old and dead parts of us, leaving us prepared for renewal.

Fire is also a refining tool. In the world of precious metals fire is used to burn off impurities, leaving behind something much more valuable. God’s fire also works this way in the life of a believer, consuming all of our sins and selfish ways, leaving us more like the Lord. By removing our impurities, God is making us more into his image. Even the “small” sins that we hold onto as immature Christians are touched by the power of God’s fire. The fire changes us from within, reshaping our hearts, over and over, each time making us more like our Lord.

Moses walked up the mountain without fear. He knew the fire to be an extension of God’s love. Entering into God’s presence always resulted in positive change in his life. In our humanity we sometimes are reluctant to enter into God’s fire. Quite bluntly, at times we like to hold onto our sin. Yet we too are called to walk into the fire. As God’s love grows within us, we mature in the faith and become willing to place ourselves within God’s consuming and refining fire. We come to know that there we are made into someone better. There we are made new again. There our old ways are consumed and we are able to be filled with even more of God’s love. In this process, we are made more like him, coming to shine a little brighter, to bring more glory to God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, may your fire burn hot in me, consuming all of me that is not pleasing to you. Consume the chaff, the sins, the selfishness, the pride – all that needs to go. May your fire purify me, each time leaving behind something more and more useful in your kingdom. May the fire of your love burn strongly within me. Amen.


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Back to the Wheel

Reading: Jeremiah 18: 1-6

Verse 4: “So the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him”.

As a potter sits at the wheel with a piece of clay, in their mind is an idea of what the clay will become. It may be a bowl or a cup or a plate or a pitcher in the idea that the potter envisions. As the wheel turns, the potter’s hands gently but firmly shape the clay into something. Sometimes the thing that begins to evolve is not what the potter had envisioned. The potter then reforms the lump and begins to sculpt again, creating that which was planned.

God and the relationship with humanity is much like the metaphor of the potter and the clay. God formed Adam then Eve in his image. Since then God has knit each of us together in the womb, as we read about the last two days in Psalm 139. Ever since the creation of the world, God has had a plan. At times the people of God have wandered from that plan, becoming a thing that God had not intended. And like the potter, God worked to reshape the people, bringing them back to what was planned. As is the case today, God sends a prophet to try and guide the people back to God and back into a right relationship with God.

This general pattern has continued since the creation of the world. The cycle of sin is ever repeated. God, in abundant patience and love, continues to shape and reform us into what we were created to be.

When I think about my life and the cummulative journey of my 53+ years, I am amazed. I cannot even begin to fathom how many times God has said, “Back to the wheel”! More than the “stars in the sky” comes to mind. What amazes me is that God always remains faithful. When I take option “John” instead of option God, God just revises. God goes to plan B or C or Z to get me heading back to point Q. Like the potter, God continues to shape my life, to work me back around to his plan, to help me be what I was created to be. How grateful I am.

As you look back on your years, how has God shaped and formed and reshaped you? How is God doing so today?

Prayer: Creating God, continue to work within me, ever shaping me to be who you created me to be. Form my will to yours, O God. Work in me to shape me more and more into your son’s image. Carry me through the valleys and hard days. Amen.


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God’s Will

Reading: Hebrews 10: 5-10

Verse 7: “Here I am… I have come to do your will, O God”.

Much of the Old Testament covers the when, what, how, and why of the sacrificial system that atoned for sin. Chapter after chapter details this system. In many ways temple sacrifice was a core element of the Jewish faith. Yet, sprinkled here and there in the Old Testament are verses like the one that Jesus quoted from Psalm 40. When an offering or sacrifice became just a motion they were going through, it displeased God. When the same sacrifice was given over and over because the sin was repeated too, it displeased God. The act of atonement had to include repentance in the heart.

At times I have been guilty of this too. I have asked for forgiveness without a full commitment to repent of that sin. I felt guilty enough to confess but not enough to change. I have gone to church or MYF or men’s group because I was supposed to, had a poor attitude the whole time, and left just as empty as when I came. I have helped my neighbor or the stranger I met not because I wanted to or was led to but because it was my “job”. We have all been there (or close to there).

In verse 7 Jesus quotes Psalm 40, saying, “Here I am… I have come to do your will, O God”. This is reminiscent of Samuel and others who responded faithfully when God called. Samuel and many like him had a heart willing to follow God and His ways. This too was the heart of Jesus. His purpose was to do the will of God. All day, every day. Jesus lived with a heart ever centered on God’s will. It showed in all He did and said. Jesus exemplified obedience and this allowed Him to be God’s love and mercy lived out to the fullest. May we go and be like Jesus, doing God’s will always.

Prayer: Lord, prepare me to be your servant each and every day. Mold me, shape me, refine me to follow Jesus’ way. Help me to become less each day so that my life glorifies you more and more. Amen.


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Saved

Reading: John 3: 16-17

Verse Seventeen: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him”.

Not to condemn but to save. Not to seal our fate but to show us the way, the truth, and the life. Not to stand far above us in judgment but to live within us as friend. Not to be unknown but to be fully known. “For God so loved the world…”. He took on flesh, lived among us, was crucified and rose so that His Spirit could continue to live on in each of us.

God’s purpose in Jesus is to make His love known more completely. As we journey through life, our faith changes and grows. We become more and more who God created us to be in Jesus Christ. In doing so, God takes all of us – who we are and what we have experienced – and molds and remolds us day by day, reshaping us into who He wants us to be. Through God’s great transforming power we are made into a new creation so that we can be change agents in other people’s lives. God created us to use us for the transformation of others and of the world.

How will that look today and tomorrow and the next day? How will God take each of us and use us to build the kingdom here on earth? How will God use us to share the good news of salvation and hope that is offered through a relationship with God’s Son, Jesus Christ? All of this is done through us and through our story. The change that God has wrought in us is the change that He can work in others. If we share our story with others, it opens the door for God to go to work in their lives as well.

Not to condemn but to save. Not to hate but to love. Not to separate but to draw together. May we be Jesus’ light and love in the world today and every day, helping others to be saved. Amen.


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Invitation

Reading: Mark 8: 31-33

Verse 33: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”.

Lent is a season of fasting and self-denial. It is the season when we are invited to look within and to surrender all that keeps us from being fully committed to God. In general, the things of the men, the things that culture values, keep us separated. In today’s passage, Peter is a good example of this. After Jesus tells the disciples that He will soon be rejected and killed, Peter pulls Him aside to protest such a thing happening. Jesus then rebukes Peter, saying to him, “Get behind me Satan”! The future rock of the church is being called Satan. But Jesus goes on. He knows that the human Peter missed the “after three days rise again” part of the story. Sadly Jesus says to him, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”. Peter wanted Jesus to stay with them. He wanted to hold onto the familiar and comfortable. Peter is not alone.

The season of Lent with all of its fasting and self-denial and surrender continues to run counter to our human desires and to our culture and its values. In a culture that preaches “just do it” and “do it if it makes you feel good” the idea of Lent is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. It is no wonder so many of us struggle with Lent. Ultimately, though, Lent is a season all about grace and holiness. As we look within, God invites us to be more like Jesus. As we look outside of ourselves, God invites live out His grace and love. In these ways, Lent is an invitation not a requirement. It is an invitation to be a better follower, to live out a more holy and faithful life. And, yes, if we accept the invitation, it will bring some discomfort – it is a harder journey.

As God invites us to search within and to step out, we do so with a promise: “I will never leave you”. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we do not search and we do not go alone. In those moments of unfamiliar, the Spirit will guide and lead. In those moments of discomfort, the Spirit speaks words of peace and strength. In those moments when we look within, when it is unsettling, the Spirit speaks words of encouragement and support. Our discomfort, our unease, are invitations into God’s grace and love. They are invitations to draw closer, to walk holier. They are opportunities that allow His grace and love to reshaped us, to transform us. When we choose to focus our minds on the things of God, we are blessed. May this be my choice and your choice throughout this Lenten season. Amen!


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Compassionate Love

Reading: Jonah 3: 1-5 & 10

Verse Ten: “He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened”.

Today we pick up the story of Jonah part way through.  Jonah has already been told to go to Nineveh, fled the other direction, been tossed into the sea during a fierce storm, been swallowed by a fish, prayed to God, and was vomited on to dry land.  This is Jonah 1 and 2 in a nutshell.  Our passage today begins with God speaking a second time to Jonah, instructing him to go to the great city of Nineveh to give a message which calls for their repentance.

Nineveh is a great city with over 120,000 residents.  Our passage tells us that it takes three days to visit the city.  We also learn that it is a city of wickedness.  God calls Jonah to go to save the city from destruction.  This is the first indication of God’s compassionate love.  God desires for the city to turn from its evil ways.  God’s compassionate love is also shown to Jonah as God is willing to tell him a second time to go to Nineveh.  God could have let Jonah drown and found another messenger.

Jonah goes to Nineveh and preached, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be over turned”.  The people believe God and a citywide fast is declared by the king.  The people also put on sackcloth as a sign of their repentance.  The king led the people to do this in hope that God would be compassionate and would relent.  In verse ten we read, “He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened”.  God delivered the second chance that He wanted to give the city.  The story does not end here either.  God still has some work to do with Jonah.  Even though God’s purposes for Nineveh have been completed, God still loves Jonah and goes on to show that.

In the continuing work that God does with Jonah we come to see that God not only gives Jonah a second chance, but also a third…  God does not give up on Jonah.  He continues to bring Jonah along, ever shaping him into who he was created to be.  This is a beautiful thing about our God.  He continues to do the same thing for each and every one of us.  In His great love, God works and works and works to help us along our Christian walk.  He never gives up on us.  It is a beautiful thing.  Thanks be to God for His never-ending compassionate love for you and for me.


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Distance

Reading: Isaiah 64: 5-9

Verse Five: “We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

There are times when we all feel distance from God.  Sometimes it is because we are struggling with sin in our life and this separates us for a time.  Sometimes it is our own inability to move past the guilt or shame that comes from our sin.  We stew init a bit.  We feel unworthy of God’s forgiveness so we do not ask for it.  And some of the time we want to be near God but it just feels as if He were absent or very distant.  We can cause the distance some of the time, but once in a while it is not rooted in us.  It just feels like there is some distance between us and God.

In our writing from Isaiah, there is some distance or separation that the people are feeling.  Verse five opens with a truth: “You come to the help of those that gladly do right”.  This verse may be wishful thinking or it may be a call to get back to doing what is right so that God can again feel present.  As verses five through seven unfold, we see that sin has definitely been a part of the separation.  Isaiah also admits that “no one calls on the name” of God and that no one “strives” to get a hold of God.  There is a complacency also at work here.  despite it primarily being their sins that separate them from God, the people still want to blame God.  Their logic makes no sense.  God cannot be more present.  God’s mercy and grace are always available and at work in our lives.  God never hides from His children.  They are playing the “if only you were here” game with a God who is always there.

The tide begins to turn in verse eight.  Isaiah writes, “We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  He is reminding the people that they are indeed in God’s hands and that, even in the midst of feeling like there is separation, God is still at work.  Even in the trials, God is shaping us too.  Verse nine closes with a plea: “Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people”.  God has, is, and always will be looking upon His people.  It is a reminder to themselves as much as it is a request of God.  At times we too must confess our need for God.

When we feel separation, we must find the root.  If it is sin that separates us from God, may we cast that aside,  repent, and seek God’s forgiveness.  If it is just a feeling, may we seek God with all that we are.  When we seek Him, we will find Him.  Delve into the Word.  Go out and be the hands and feet.  Spend time in fervent prayer.  Lift your voice in praise.  God is present.  We will find Him when we seek Him.  Amen.


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Teach

Reading: Psalm 78: 1-7

Verse Four: “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.”

Today’s Psalm is all about the story of God and His children.  The whole Psalm speaks of God’s love and compassion for the people regardless of their wanderings and stumbles.  It is a reminder that it is God who remains constant in our covenant relationship.  God is faithful even as we rebel.  As we read the opening of Psalm 78, we are reminded why we need to stay in touch with our history with God.  The psalmist begins with this proclamation: “O my people, hear my teaching”.  We do this many ways.

We remember through personal and corporate study and worship.  We remember as we take time to reflect on God’s provision and blessing as we lift our prayers of thanks and praise.  As we do these things, God’s love and compassion seep a little deeper still into who we are and how we live out our lives.  We remember, we connect, we are shaped.

Verse four begins our role as story tellers of the faith.  It begins with, “We will not hide them from our children”.  We will instead live out the love and compassion of God in our daily lives.  The verse continues, “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord”.  To many this speaks of Sunday school.  Yes and no.  What we teach our children about God must begin at home.  If we model God as the central focus of our personal lives, so too will our children.  If we joyously head off to church each Sunday, so too will our children.  We model God’s love and compassion by how we live it out in our lives.  We model faith by how visible it is in our lives.  We model Christ’s love to the world by being His hands and feet each day.

The psalmist goes on to write, “then they would put their trust in God”.  It is my hope and prayer for all children.  May it be yours as well.  As we live out this day, may our love of God pour forth in all we think, say, and do.  May God’s compassion for all if His children be evident in our compassion for all of His children.  May it be so this day and every day.  Amen.