pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Up from the Foundation

Reading: Psalm 137: 5-9

Verse 5: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill”.

In the short-term of life it seems like things never change. The context of our Psalm today is the period of exile that followed the fall of Jerusalem. The people of Israel have been in Babylon for what feels like forever. It feels like their situation will never change. Deep within they long for their past. But at this moment they are stuck in Babylon.

In the long-term of life it often feels like things are always changing. Kings come and go, foreign powers rise and fall, there are times of freedom and times of captivity. Humans in general do not like change. The routines that we fall into in life feel like “forever” after a while. Our faith is one of these routines. In exile, the people of Israel cling to the songs and stories of faith. The telling and retelling of their oral traditions and the singing of their sacred songs connects them both to God and to the past that they long for. The deep desire to always remember is captured in verse five, where we read, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill”. If one forgets the most important thing – God – then all else is lost.

Our faith exists and thrives in between the past and the future, between the constant and the change. The Bible and the practices and traditions that we derive from it keep us connected to God and to Jesus. They remind us of who we are as Christians and as communities of faith. Yet our faith also looks forward. One way we look forward is our trust in the future promises – to one day enter heaven and to one day see all things made new as Jesus Christ returns. The other way we look forward in our faith is the idea of journey. Our faith today is not what it was five years ago. We seek to journey forward, ever becoming more and more like Jesus.

The Bible, the traditions, the practices – these are the solid foundations of our faith. The desire to grow to be more like Jesus – this is the building up from that foundation. We are blessed by both. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for being who and what you are: unchanging love and mercy and grace. Thank you for showing us all these things lived out in your son, Jesus Christ. Keep me connected to both. Amen.

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Tell, Tell, Tell

Reading: Luke 12: 13-21

Verse 16: “And he told them this parable…”.

Jesus loved to tell a story. His stories always taught something about faith and they usually connected to everyday life. All in the audience could usually relate to the story, often called a parable.

Although it is not as common today, there are still cultures and people groups who still tell their history through stories. Oral traditions are how much of a people’s story gets passed along to the next generation. Much of the Bible comes to us as oral tradition that was finally written down. For example, the gospel we read today was compiled and written at least forty years after Jesus died.

Many people in the less developed areas of our world still rely on oral tradition. Literacy rates are low and books are scarce within some people groups. Here the stories of the group, the family, the individual is passed on in story form. Stories are easier to remember than factual lists or straight history accounts. Much care and attention is given to knowing the story well in order to pass it along well to those who do not know the story. Knowing the story well and passing it along are two key components of living out our Christian faith.

There are actually two stories we need to know well as Christians. The first is the story of the Bible. We do not need to memorize the whole Bible but we do need to understand the overarching story and the important details related to personal salvation and faithful living. The second story we need to know well is our own faith story. We must be able to tell the story of how and why Jesus matters in our life. We must be able to tell the story of what Jesus does for us.

Once we know these stories, our task becomes telling the stories to others. The story of the Bible is big and we can share that with anyone. Our personal faith story is a little more specific, yes, but there are many who need to hear it. We just have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to these people. As faithful followers may we tell the story of faith well and often – both of the stories!

Prayer: Lord, Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is a big story. Help me to continue to be faithful to learning more of the story. Day by day increase my understanding. Grant me then the words and actions to tell your story and my story well. Amen.


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All Over Town

Reading: Luke 8: 37-39

Verse 39: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you”.

Fear has been a common theme this week. Elijah’s fear drove him into the wilderness. Fear runs throughout this passage from Luke 8. Fear led the townspeople to first bind the demon-possessed man and then to drive him away when he kept breaking the chains. The demons inside the man fear Jesus more than another fear – being sent back the the Abyss. The townspeople fear Jesus, asking him to leave rather than risk the change he may work in their lives. The man who was healed also faces fear once again. It is the same fear that Elijah must have felt after he encountered God and was being sent back to the work of prophet.

The man only sits for a little while at Jesus’ feet before those who had driven him away come to drive Jesus away. He seeks a new community with Jesus and his disciples, begging to go with them. But God has a different plan for his newfound life. Instead of coming along, Jesus says to him, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you”. Jesus reminds the man of the power of God that has just brought him freedom. The man who had long been captive to demons was now free. The power of God is enough to lead him to do just what Jesus asked him to do. The man returned to his town and “told all over town how much Jesus had done for him”.

The truth of a changed life makes a powerful witness. The words of healing and restoration that come from the one who was made whole again can change lives. We have all found freedom in Christ. Our story may not be about being freed from something that possessed us, but it might be. It might be about the freedom we found in surrendering control to Jesus. It might be about the new life we found when we let go of our anger or pride or greed. We have all found freedom in Christ. We all have a story to tell that shares how much Jesus has done for us. May we claim our story and may we too share it all over town.

Prayer: God, thank you for grabbing ahold of me and making me new again. I was once lost, but you found me too. May I ever share the good news of what Jesus has done and continues to do for me. Amen.


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The Catch

Reading: Luke 5: 1-7

Verse 4: “Put out into deep water, and let down your nets for a catch”.

Our passage begins with the words, “One day…”. The words sound so casual, so happenstance. Jesus is there by that lake that day because that is the day and place that He is going to call His first disciples. Jesus could have been many places that day. As Jesus is teaching the crowds build. He steps into a boat. There were two boats. Jesus steps into Simon Peter’s boat and asks Simon Peter to put out a bit. The boat was empty, just like the second boat. In putting out, Peter had to join Jesus in the boat.

Jesus finishes teaching and asks Simon Peter, “Put out into deep water, and let down your nets for a catch”. He asks His captive audience to do something that is probably the last thing on his mind. Peter does call Jesus “Master”, showing some recognition of who Jesus is said to be. But Peter is tired and just wants to go home. Yet Peter chooses to honor the request that Jesus has made of him.

In the request, Jesus has told Peter what is going to happen. Jesus says, “for a catch”. He knows how many fish will swim into Peter’s nets. Jesus is not in that boat with that man by happenstance. He is about to do a miracle that will change a man’s life forever. It is something that we see Jesus do often in His ministry. But often the role is reversed. The blind man calls out to Jesus for sight. The lepers cry out to Jesus to be healed and made clean. The friends bring the lame man to Jesus. Today Jesus is the seeker. Today Jesus is the one calling out.

Some of us have perhaps sought Jesus – in the midst of a devastating loss we turned to Him. Or in the depth of a life-threatening illness, we cried out to Jesus. But most of us were like Peter, aware of who Jesus was, heard a few of the stories. But just going through life. And then suddenly Jesus is there and He climbs in our boat. Almost unexpectedly we meet Jesus up close and personal. We did not see it coming, but we cannot deny the relationship that has suddenly burst to life.

The miracle that Jesus offers is amazing. It is not just a catch – a few fish for lunch. It is not just a good catch – enough to sell and earn some wages. The catch is enormous. It was so big that Peter needed help containing it. It is like when Jesus catches us – we are filled with Him to overflowing and we just want others to know of this Jesus that called us to new life. We want to share this amazing thing that has happened in our lives. Can you remember that day, that season?

Connect to the day that you were the catch. Recall the emotion. Recapture the energy and the passion. Then go out and tell the story of how Jesus caught you over and over.

Prayer: Lord, rekindle that fire within me today. May I again be so filled with you that you overflow. May I tell the story of your love and power in my life today and every day. Amen.


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God at Work

Reading: Esther 9: 20-22

Verse 22: “Mordecai wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving of presents of food”.

Our passage today begins with Mordecai recording the recent events and sending this out in a letter to “all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerses, near and far”. Mordecai is writing to all the Jews for two purposes. In Esther 3 an edict had been sent out to all the provinces that on the 13th day of the month of Adar, all the Jews were to be killed. Imagine the horror and fear that must have swept through the Jewish communities spread “near and far”. The date would have felt like a ticking bomb. So the first purpose of Mordecai’s letter was to let the Jews know that they had been spared.

As important as this information was, the bigger purpose of the letter was to tell the story of how God had acted to save His people. Yes, being spared is super important, but the “how” is much more important. The letter must have detailed Mordecai’s faith and trust in God to act. It must have spoken of Esther’s course and trust in God. In both cases, it speaks of people willing to step up and stand up for God and for their faith. Thus, it encourages to do the same should necessity or opportunity arise. The letter also tells, more importantly, of how God was faithful too – guiding and orchestrating the events to rescue His chosen people from sure death. The letter ultimately reminds the Jews of God’s love and care.

In his letter, Mordecai declares the 14th and 15th days of Adar to be “days of feasting and joy and giving of presents of food” as the people celebrate God at work. These are the days immediately after the former date of their destruction. Mordecai directs the people to give gifts of food not only to each other but also to the poor. Just as God had cared for His people in a time of need, so too will they care for those in need among them. This act is also one more way to tell the story of God’s saving hand.

This story reminds us of times when God has been at work in our lives. These times are part of our story of faith. Like Mordecai, may we also share the story.

Lord, I recognize and give thanks for the many times that you have guided and cared for and even rescued me. May I use each opportunity today to tell the story of your love and care and faithfulness. Amen.


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Who Is This Jesus?

Reading: John 6: 35 & 41-46

Verse 46: “At this the Jews began to grumble about Him because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven'”.

Jesus has just fed the 5,000 so the idea of Jesus and bread seem to go hand in hand at this moment in His ministry. He has encouraged those who return the next day for more food to look not only for physical bread but also to work for the “food that endures to eternal life”. He offers this “bread” to them if only they will believe. It is at this point that our passage opens today as Jesus says, “I am the bread of life…”

Some of the Jews balk at Jesus’ earlier claim when He said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven”. They cannot rectify this with the Jesus they know. The people here know His parents – Mary and Joseph – and they have known Jesus since childhood. They know where He came from. How can He now make this claim to be from heaven? They see and understand Jesus only on the literal, human level. To them bread is simply bread.

In the interceding verses Jesus makes some other claims. He claims that He is sent by God and that He only does the will of God. Jesus also reiterates that belief in Him is the path to eternal life. Then, in verse 40, Jesus claims that on the last day He will raise up all who believe. None of these claims hit a nerve. They are all beyond where His audience is stuck. The Jews can not or do not or will not move past the birth narrative that they know.

To try and help them connect to something they know, Jesus turns to the Old Testament for reinforcement. He quotes the prophet Isaiah, saying, “Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to Me”. In essence Jesus is saying to look in the scriptures and you will see that they point to Jesus the Messiah. This connection was a stumbling block for many. It continues to be today.

For all believers, we must spend time in our Bibles so that we understand this connection of Old to New. We must be able to articulate how the New Testament is the fuller revelation of the God of the Old Testament. We must be able to explain the continuing story of God’s activity in the world through Jesus. Jesus incarnate is God. Jesus is God’s love lived out in human relationships. Our role as believers is to help the lost to find and understand this truth. May we know the story of Jesus well so that we can share it with others.


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Ring, Ring

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse Nine: “If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening'”.

Today we have Samuel’s call story. Before he was born his mom dedicated him to the Lord. As soon as he was able he began serving in the temple. This life is really all Samuel has known for his twelve or thirteen years of life. I suppose he could have rebelled as a young boy, deciding this was not the life he wanted for himself. He wouldn’t be the first. Today people do this all the time – leaving one vocation for another or transferring to someplace else where it must be better.

Then one night God calls out to Samuel. Three times. It is only when old, wise Eli realizes that it was God calling did Samuel know to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”. Only with Eli’s help. This makes me think of my call story. God began to give a call to me way back when I began adult life as a middle school teacher in the early 1990s. As I grew in my own faith and became more involved at my church, volunteering in various capacities, the call grew louder. The voices of good friends and total strangers eventually joined the echoing of God’s call. Then, twenty-something years later, I accepted the call to full-time vocational ministry.

Although the span of time was much greater that Samuel’s, over and over I heard God calling. It was a long process convincing me that God was indeed calling. It was like a slow sunrise that quietly creeps across the landscape as God’s light spread more and more into my life. Certainly not all are called into vocational ministry. Most folks are called into a relationship with God that leads them to serve God in their daily lives as doctors or construction workers, as secretaries or teachers, … A few receive a lightning bolt call – one day an overwhelming voice or event catapults them into a relationship with God.

This all leads to the question: what is your call story? Or is God still calling you? We all have a story to tell. When someone asks, as one surely will, about this joy and peace that you have, what will you say? What is your story of faith? How will you explain how God has been and is at work in your life? When someone asks, how will you explain the call of God upon your life?