pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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On the Fringes

Reading: John 4: 27-42

Verse 35: “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for the harvest”.

When was the last time you met someone like the woman at the well? When was the last time you had a conversation with someone who was not like you, who was outside of your normal circles of friends and acquaintances, who was not among the popular and accepted folks in the community? Every community has them. It may be only one or two who live outside the norms of society. It may be thousands who live on the fringes in your community.

In verses 5-26 of John 4, Jesus made the choice to engage one of these people. He stepped over many barriers to draw in this woman at the well, to help her find the living water that only he can give. The disciples return just as the conversation between Jesus and the woman ends. They have been in town getting food. In response to their offer of physical food, Jesus speaks instead of the spiritual food he has to offer.

Some of the people we might meet on the fringes are in need of physical food. Some on the fringes are in need of a place to belong, to feel loved. Some are in need of support and guidance and direction in life. Some on the fringes have other basic needs – heating fuel, gas to get to work, clothes for the kids. Before we can begin to have the spiritual conversations with someone on the fringes we must cross a barrier or three and we must help them cross barriers as well to find a place of trust and security and honesty. Jesus models this well in the story we read in John 4.

Jesus also acknowledges that we all play a role. In verse 37 he says, “One sows and another reaps”. We may be like Jesus was with the woman at the well – beginning the conversation and following it through to a profession of faith. But most of the time we are just one step in the process of someone becoming a follower of Jesus.

In our passage today, Jesus encourages the disciples and us to be a step in the process. In verse 35 Jesus tells us, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for the harvest”. These words are just as true today as the day he spoke them. Some people are curious. Some are hurting. Some are angry. Some are alone. Some are grieving. Many are on the fringes and want to come into community. Open your eyes and look. The fields are ripe. Go forth to be the love of Jesus to one in need of connection.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see those in need. Help me to live well – to foster a deep love for the marginalized and others with needs. Open my eyes and my heart, O God. Amen.


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A Bit More

Reading: Isaiah 9: 3-4

Verse 4a: “You have shattered the yoke that burdens them”.

The opening section of Isaiah 9 is titled “Into Us a Child Is Born” and it references the birth of the “wonderful counselor… the prince of peace”. Isaiah begins earlier in the chapter stating “a light has dawned” as he explains how the people walking in darkness see the light. In his time, Isaiah is writing to a people living in exile. The coming of the light will occur in about 700 years and the exile will last about 200 years – until at last the people return to the promised land. Isaiah calls the people to look forward to the time when God will restore them. In doing so, Isaiah casts a vision of hope.

In our time, when we see people struggling, some living in darkness, we can also help bring light, casting a vision for hope. Maybe all we can do is provide for a basic need like fuel for the heater or food for the stomach. Maybe all we can do is to contribute to the offering for toiletries for the elderly or to donate to the coat drive at school. Maybe all we can do is to walk alongside a friend as they seek to walk the steps of a recovery program. Maybe all we can do is to be present and to sit with someone in the pain of grief and loss.

In our passage today, in verse four, Isaiah writes about how God “shattered the yoke that burdens them”. This will happen for Isaiah’s audience as God leads the people out from under the oppression of exile and back into the land that God intended them to live in. This act brought freedom to the Israelites. Many years later, Jesus modeled how to bring freedom to broken and hurting souls. Some if it did begin by meeting basic needs – like when he fed the large crowds. Some if it began by hearing their brokenness and then doing something about it, helping them find hope – like with the woman caught in adultery. In love, Jesus brought light to many people’s darkness.

When we offer assistance, when we help out, when we encourage and support, when we walk with another, when we bring comfort, we too are bringing light into darkness, we too are removing the yoke that burdens. It may only be temporary in many cases. Perhaps tomorrow or yet another day we can lift it a bit more and then a bit more, opening the door one day for Jesus to come into their hearts. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Father God, even in our small community there is much need. There are many who feel a yoke across their backs. Guide me today to help lift those burdens where I can. Give me eyes to see and hands to act and words to bring light and hope. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Act in Faith

Reading: Hebrews 11: 1-3

Verse 1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”.

Hebrews 11 is about hope and faith. These two are tightly intertwined. For the writer of Hebrews, faith is more of an action than a noun. Today we usually talk about faith as a noun, saying things like, “The Christian faith believes…”. We must shift this mindset if we are to really understand what is being taught in Hebrews 11.

The opening verse sets the stage for the rest of the chapter. In verse one we read, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”. Acting in faith dies not first require proof or visible results. These will come. But in our relationship with God we first believe and hold to the promises: peace in the trial, strength for the day, guidance with the hard decision, joy in life, contentment with our station, salvation for our souls… Our faith first leads us to be sure and then we will experience these things. This becomes cyclical, one growing upon the other. Soon our faith then leads us to look forward with hope and expectation of what God will do next.

This looking forward leads us to step forward. The next dozen or so verses in Hebrews 11 is all about people who acted out their faith, stepping forward into God’s promises. We too step forward “certain of what we do not see”. We step forward knowing that the unseen hand of God is leading and guiding us. Author Larry Peacock puts it this way: “Faith is stepping out, leaning forward, and trusting that God goes before us”. I love the image of leaning into God. There is trust there.

When our faith becomes certain then we step out. Doing so we believe the work we do, the kindness we offer, the generosity we share, the support we bring… makes a difference in the world. As we again experience God at work in and through us, God builds our faith even more and also opens the eyes and hearts of the other to begin to see how faith could work in their lives. In and with God’s love and assurance, may we act out our faith this day, being living examples of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, I know that when you lead, you go before me. Too often I try and lead. Often I go alone. Help me to be a better follower, trusting your will and way for me. Help me to trust in you alone. Amen.


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Community

Reading: Philippians 1: 3-8

Verse 6: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul begins by thanking God for the faith this church displays. Each time that he prays for them he rejoices in their “partnership in the gospel” with him. They must be living out their faith well. Paul also recognizes the end game as well. Their faithful living will lead to the redemption of their souls. In verse 6 he writes, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. Paul is thankful for their place in the family of God both now and in eternity.

Do you have folks in your life that you can say this about? Can you survey those you know and offer up such a prayer of thanksgiving for them? We each have people “in my heart”, just as Paul did, that we too can be lifting prayers of thanksgiving for. There are many in my family and in my circles of church friends and colleagues who have great faith that I am thankful for. Their witness and example encourage and strengthen me on my journey of faith.

For Paul, whether in chains or out preaching the gospel, he appreciated the connection that he has with all Christians everywhere. Paul knows that the family of God extends across geographical spaces and through cultural and social differences. He writes, “all of you share in God’s grace with me”. If he were reading this line aloud, I think Paul would emphasize the word “all”. There is a unity amongst and a connection between all members of the body of Christ. For this too I rejoice. For Christians everywhere, no matter our denominational flavor, we all share the same Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are all living under the same covenant of grace. In the essentials, we enjoy unity and community. Praise be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for all of those you have and continue to place in my life who live as witnesses to your will and way. They mean so much to me, to my faith. Bless them, O Lord. I also thank you for my fellow Christians, who also seek to bring you glory as together we build the kingdom. Thank you God for the larger community of faith. Amen.


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Be Filled!

Reading: Ephesians 5: 15-20

Verses 18 and 19: “Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”.

“Be filled with the Spirit”! What a positive thought. In all we do and say and think, allow the Spirit to not only lead and guide, but to overflow into other people’s lives as well. Be so filled that the Spirit is always flowing out into other people’s needs, situations, and circumstances. Be so filled that others experience God and His love just by being around you. What a way to live out and share our faith!

Let us consider what would be required of us to live such a life. The basic question to consider is this: how are we filled with the Holy Spirit? The start of the answer comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Once we declare and profess that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, then the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in our hearts. The rest of the answer to our basic question comes from what we do with the relationship once it is established. Do we do things that intensify the relationship and help it to grow both wider and deeper? Or do we allow it to just remain at the acquaintance stage?

To really know the Spirit we must know the source. To get to know Jesus, we must invest times and energy to know Jesus better and better by reading and studying and meditating upon the Word. The Bible reveals Jesus to us and strengthens our relationship with Him. To really know Jesus we must also know God. We too come to know God through the Word. We can also develop this relationship by communicating with God. We do this through prayer. Open and honest conversation with God will deepen and widen our relationship with God. It will grow it.

The last part to our answer to this basic question comes in today’s key verse: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”. This is worship; this is small groups; this is doing service projects together; this is sharing a meal together. There are many ways that we can be in Christian fellowship with one another. All bind us closer to one another, growing closer as the family of God as we encourage, support, love, teach, and even hold one another accountable. All, in turn, build our relationships with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

If we practice these disciplines and habits each day, we will be filled with the Holy Spirit. As such, we will bless others as our faith overflows into their lives. Be filled with the Spirit! May it be so.


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Build

Reading: Mark 6: 1-6a

Verse Three: “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…”?

Can you remember when you were a child and you wanted to do something “adult”? I can remember my parents or others saying “You’re too young” or something similar. As a parent I can also remember being on the other side of these conversations with our children. Waiting to be old enough is part of growing up.

Jesus must have also experienced this growing up. He must have heard things like, “No, you can’t walk to your cousin John’s house. It is a long way and you are only seven”. Later it was probably something like, “No, we’ll work together on this kitchen remodel. You’re not old enough to do this on your own”. But being questioned because we are young or inexperienced is much different than being questioned because of our past. In fact, some people even move to a new town or a new company just to get a fresh start.

When Jesus returns to His home town, He must have come with a bit of a reputation from what He has been doing lately. Buzz from the miracles traveled from village to village and town to town. In our passage, Jesus begins by teaching in the synagogue and there He amazes them with His wisdom. But then someone remembers Jesus’ past and asks, “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…”? What they were really asking was: “Isn’t this JUST the carpenter…”? They could not see He for who He had become. This is a hard thing to experience. It is real and many have and will experience it. The power of these negative thoughts is evident in how it limits Jesus’ power. He could not do big miracles and was amazed at their lack of faith.

This passage makes me wonder: when have I done this to someone recently? Am I always willing to allow others the chance to do what they think God is calling them to? Or do I squash their enthusiasm or question their motivation?

Lord, help me. Lord God, may I be an empowerer and an equipper, may I be a cheerleader and a person of support. May I be open to the God-inspired dreams and visions that you give to people. May I help them become realities. May I enable and work with others to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Saving Relationship

Reading: Psalm 20

Verses Six and Seven: “Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed… we trust in the name of the Lord our God”.

Relationship is the key to our faith. In today’s Psalm, David speaks of the relationship we have with God. One of the keys to any good relationship is communication. David opens with one of our key communication tools: prayer. He asks God, “May the Lord answer you… protect you”. As the faithful we are to bring all things to God, trusting in God’s response. David then prays for blessings of help and support from God.

Another way we communicate with God is through our acts of worship. Often this occurs on Sunday mornings as we gather for corporate worship. How we choose to live our day to day lives is also an act of worship if it brings glory to God. When we offer some of ourselves or some of our time, talents, and resources, it is an act of worship. When we give to God or to others because of the love of God overflowing from our hearts, it is worship. When we sacrifice self and place God and neighbor ahead of our own interests and desires, we are also modeling for others the witness given by Jesus Christ.

David goes on to ask that God may give us the desires of our heart and for our plans to succeed. He is petitioning God to grant us a good life. David is not hoping that the king or any of us are billionaires, but that we find contentment and that God provides for all our needs.

As he closes, David turns to the salvation we find through our relationship with God. In verse six he writes, “Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed”. When we confess Jesus as Lord, we are saved. We are anointed with the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, with the “saving power of God’s right hand”. David goes on to acknowledge that some people “trust in chariots and horses” – the things of man, the things of this world. “But…”, David writes. “But we trust in the name of the Lord our God”. David observed that those who trust in the things of this world are “brought to their knees”, but the faithful “rise up and stand firm”. We do so because we stand on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God for the great love that calls us into this saving relationship. Praise be to the Lord! Amen.


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Love Well

Reading: 1st John 4: 7-21

Verse Twelve: “If we love each other, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us”.

How many times does the word ‘love’ appear in your Bible in our passage for today? In my NIV translation the word ‘love’ appears 26 times. It is certainly the theme of the passage!

As one reads this passage over a few times one gains the sense of the connectedness of the love between God and us and between each other. This idea of love being interwoven brings to mind Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12, where it speaks of how we support and encourage and help and strengthen one another. It concludes with these words in verse twelve, “a cord of three strands is not Quickly broken”. This passage common to wedding ceremonies implies that God’s love added to our love for one another gives great strength and durability to our relationships.

Love comes from God and is in God. If we know love, we know God. God’s love is shown in sending His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Since God loves us, we should love one another. Verse twelve in our passage today states, “If we love each other, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us”. There is a definite connection between the love of God and our love for one another.

Above all God is love. There is no better way to show the love of God that is in us than to love each other. May we love well today.


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Seeking and Searching

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 11-16

Verse 11: “I will search for my sheep and look after them”.

Our relationship with God is a two-way street.  We are created by God with a spark of God inside each of us as we are created in His image.  From birth God reveals Himself to us through the world and through the people in our lives.  As we grow and mature, we begin to sense our need for something more in life, for God.  If one chooses a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, then this need is filled with faith and with God.  some folks choose to try and fill the God-hole in their life with many other things, none of which ever satisfy, all leaving them searching.

Once we choose God over the things of this world, then we begin to seek more of God.  Our journey of faith becomes one of continual learning and growth.  We always seek to know Him more deeply, more intimately.  We spend time in His word, time in prayer, time in worship, and time in fellowship with other believers.  This all deepens and strengthens our faith and our relationship with Jesus, enriching our lives and bringing us His joy, love, peace, and hope.  In turn, God eventually calls us to go forth and share all of this love, hope, joy, and peace with others.

God also pursues us.  God desires to be in a relationship with all people.  This is what today’s Psalm is all about.  Verse eleven begins with these words, “I will search for my sheep and look after them”.  Jesus, our good shepherd, desires to search for, find, bring in, and care for all the sheep.  The psalmist goes on to explain how, writing, “I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered”.  This speaks both of us during those days or seasons when we have wandered and also of those  who have chosen the wide path of the world.  He seeks to call all people to Himself.  Once the call is heard, Jesus will “bring them back into their own land”.  He will connect us into communities of faith where we find encouragement, support, learning, unity, fellowship, a sense of belonging.

Our passage today ends with words of healing and restoration: “I will search for the lost and the strays.  I will bind up the inured and strengthen the weak”.  Jesus searches for and seeks out all, both the sinners and the saints.  Thanks be to God that Jesus has found you and me.  Thanks be to God that He always calls our name.  Thanks be to God that Jesus continues to search for the least and the lost.  Thanks be to God that Jesus seeks to bring them healing and restoration and to bring them into the family of God.  Thank you Jesus for your love.


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Circle

Reading: Psalm 123

Verse Two: “Our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He shows us His mercy.”

There is a perseverance in today’s Psalm that we would do well to model.  There is a confidence in God that we would do well to emulate.  There is a deep trust in God’s faithfulness that we would do well to hold fast to.  There is a humble plea for God’s mercy that we would do well to lift up over and over each day.

A circle shows unity, wholeness, togetherness, belonging.  When one sits in the circle in certain communities, one has voice, standing, worth in that community.  As we gather around a person in need of prayer and lay hands upon them, they are surrounded by the circle yet in it as we connect through our touch.  As we circle around a loved one in the hospital bed as they cross over to Jesus, we circle them in prayer and hold hands to connect together in love, support, and prayer.  In youth group and other gatherings at the church, we form a circle, hold hands, and lift our communal prayers to God.  In the circle, we are one with each another and one with God.

We can also draw circles around things.  We circle dates on the calendar that are significant and important.  We circle things in ads at Christmas time, indicating what we would value as gifts.  We can also circle God in our prayers.  This is what the psalmist means when he writes,  “Our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He shows us His mercy.”  Just as the slave looks to the master and the maid looks to her mistress, we too lift our prayers and fix our gaze on the One who is our God and King.  We too look to God and circle Him with our prayers.  We pray over and over and over as we circle God with our prayers for mercy or healing or guidance or forgiveness or…

As we circle God with our prayers, we are seeking unity and connection.  As we circle God with our prayers, we are persevering in what we desire; we are trusting in God’s love and mercy and care.  This day may we pray through as we circle God with our prayers, becoming one with God as we pray.