pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Never the Same

Reading: Luke 19: 1-10

Verse 5: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today”.

Zacchaeus is like many we see coming to Jesus. He is not popular. He lives on the edge or outside of society. He has few friends. He is looked down upon by the religious order and by almost everyone else. This tax collector is like others who came to Jesus: the lepers, the prostitute, the adulterous woman, the blind, lame, mute, deaf, the possessed… Zacchaeus has chosen his lot in life – one would bid for the lucrative position of tax collector. He chose wealth over many other things and over many relationships. He is where he is in life by his own choices.

How like Zacchaeus we are! We might not be tax collectors but we do often choose things ahead of our faith. Every time we sin – no matter how big or small – we are choosing self over God. Each time we make something more important than God we are elevating self over God. The choice is not limited to wealth or possessions. We can pursue a host of other things more than we pursue our faith. We chase after status and titles, after accomplishments and success. We can work hard so that others notice us or so that we gain that recognition. Yes, we can struggle with keeping faith the top priority in our life.

Zacchaeus heard Jesus was in town and wanted to see him. Zacchaeus was not looking to be healed or to have an audience with Jesus. He was curious. For Zacchaeus, yes, friends and some acceptance would have been nice. But life was okay. Wealth can make life feel okay. So can titles and recognition, possessions and status. Zacchaeus runs ahead of the crowd and climbs a tree just so he can see Jesus pass by.

As Jesus gets to the place in the road adjacent to Zacchaeus’ tree, he stops, looks up at him, and says, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today”. The curious is captured by the curiosity. Life will never be the same for Zacchaeus. It was never the same for the lepers, the prostitute, … It was never the same for us. In this sense, we too were once like Zacchaeus. We were curious about Jesus and he eventually worked his way into our lives. Who do you know that is curious about or is searching for Jesus? Help them to know him today.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the words to speak today to turn hearts to you. Guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Christ Brings New Life

Reading: Luke 18: 9-14

Verse 7: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”.

Pride. One can take pride in one’s work or in something one is doing. If all it leads to is doing your best and being happy and content with the result or outcome, then pride is a good thing. But if it leads to boasting or bragging, then there is a problem. When one begins to feel superiority and arrogance creeping in, then pride has taken root. From there it is only a small step to judging and even condemning others because they fall short of your standards or expectations. Here sin has fully taken root. This is a path that the voices of the world seek to lead us down. Worldly success is measured in volume of wealth and possessions, in titles and appearance. Pride easily takes root in the pursuit of worldly success and gain.

In our parable today, the Pharisee struggles with pride. His pride is not rooted in wealth or possessions in a worldly sense. The Pharisee’s area of expertise is the Law. He has excelled at learning and now practicing the Law. He has risen up the religious system to the highest accolade: Pharisee. Rising to the top naturally fuels one’s pride and ego. Even in religious systems it can be a battle to keep pride in check. In our story, the Pharisee has failed to do so. His exquisite practice of the law has clearly elevated him far above others. His words call out the obvious differences between himself and those several rungs down the ladder – the robbers, evil doers, adulterers, and tax collectors. The Pharisee even thanks God that he is not like them.

The other option would be to look at such as these and to be moved towards empathy and compassion. This option would lead to ministering to them, to helping them to come to know God, to introducing them to the only one who can help them overcome their sin. It is so much easier to sit in judgment and to just go on with ones own life.

It is messy to enter into someone’s life if they are struggling with adultery or some other form of evil such as an addiction or abuse. If one has walked that same road, it is not easy to think that maybe you can “fix” them. There’s that pride again. Only the Lord Jesus can bring complete healing and wholeness. With a humble servant’s heart we must simply bring Christ to them and then step back, allowing Jesus Christ to work in them. We can bring the gospel; it is Christ that brings new life. May it be so.

Prayer: God, convict me when pride rises up and starts to gain a hold. Help me to die to my pride. Fill me instead with the heart of Christ, ever seeking to help others know the healer, the redeemer, the restorer – Jesus. Amen.


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Knowing Their Name

Reading: Luke 16: 6-19

Verse 20: “At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus”.

In the opening verses of Luke 16 Jesus talks about how many the love the things of this world and about how shrewd the worldly are in getting what they want. Jesus reminds us that we are rich in the things of God and he encourages us to be faithful in how we use these blessings. He concludes by warning us that we cannot serve both God and wealth. Just a few verses later we read the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

Our passage today illustrates what happens when one loves the things of the world too much. The rich man is dressed in fine clothes and lives in luxury. He probably does not know the name of the one who lies just outside his door. He treats Lazarus as if Lazarus did not exist. When one allows wealth to become the god that matters, then it becomes a struggle to see past your own wants and desires and pleasures. The focus becomes inward and narrow and selfish. Choosing to live this way does not yield an eternal home with Jesus.

We do not know much about Lazarus either. He was a poor beggar who lived a hard life. He was hungry but received nothing from the rich man’s excess. We can assume that Lazarus was a man of faith because he spends his eternity in a heavenly home. And we know his name. We know his name because Jesus knew his name. Lazarus was a child of God who claimed his place in God’s family. Contrast him to the rich man, who is also a child of God. He did not claim his inheritance though because he was consumed by the things of this world.

The world still operates this way. We know the names and faces of the rich and famous. We see a homeless person on the street and we’d just assume avoid them. Knowing their name is out of the question. Yet God knows their name. Jesus knows their name. And Jesus says to us, “Come and follow me”.

Prayer: God of all, you have eyes and a heart for all. Give me your eyes and heart. Jesus had the hands and feet of a humble servant. Give me those hands and feet. Strengthen me to walk the way of Jesus this day and every day. Amen.


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Be Generous

Reading: Luke 16: 9-13

Verse 12: “And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own”?

Money is a necessity and a reality of life. But it does not have to be a high priority. In the modern world we all need money or wealth. It provides us with shelter and food and clothing and the other basics needed to live. But money can also bring us worldly pleasures and things we do not necessarily need. The pursuit of or the prioritization of the things of this world is what causes money or possessions to step ahead of God in our lives.

Our passage opens with Jesus telling us to be like the manager in terms of wisely using our worldly wealth. Most of us have some disposable income. After the mortgage or rent and all of the other necessary bills are paid, we have a sum of money to use at our discretion. It does not matter if that is $20 or $1,000. The same can be said of our time. We have “x” hours a week to do what we want with. Jesus is telling us to use this “worldly wealth” to build connections with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit – those “friends” with an eternal home. When we use our discretionary income and time to serve God and to make him known, then we are like the shrewd manager except we are finding favor with those eternal friends.

Next Jesus addresses all of us – no matter how much or how little wealth or time or talents we have at our disposal. If we only have a little money, do we do God’s work with it? If we only have a little time to read our Bibles or to have a faith conversation with someone, do we? Or do we convince ourselves that we might need that money for a rainy day or that the time would be better spent on a nap or in front of the television? We all have time and wealth and gifts and talents that we can use to build our faith and God’s kingdom. The question is: do we?

In verse twelve Jesus turns to the basic fact that all we have is really God’s. Our time, our wealth, our talents… are all gifts from God. Jesus asks, “And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own”? He is asking us how in the world will we enter heaven as heirs or co-owners with Christ if we do not follow him here on earth? If we do not walk daily with Jesus, keeping him ever the priority, then we will not dwell eternally with him. It is quite simple. To that end, may we be abundantly generous with all that we have been given – generous to God and generous to others.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be a more humble servant. At times I want to guard my time and my other gifts. Answering the call or responding to the Holy Spirit is sometimes hard when self rises up. Lead me today and use me as you will. Amen.


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Open to Others

Reading: Luke 12: 13-21

Verse 15: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”.

On its most basic level the parable of the rich man is about greed and the negative decisions it can lead to. In the parable a bumper crop triggered the man’s “mine” instincts. He decided he had to build bigger barns to store his new crop. He coveted his grain because in it he saw not only financial security but also a chance to take some time to enjoy life. He was very focused on self.

Possessions and wealth are not the only things we can feel greed over and can seek to covet. This morning I read about a small neighborhood church in a changing community that decided to take a chance and reach out. Instead of holding onto their church, they opened their doors and invited their new immigrant neighbors inside. They invited them in and began praying with them – to find homes and jobs and for comfort to their loneliness. The praying led to relationships and that small church grew as their new friends became brothers and sisters in Christ.

Some churches could see new faces as threats to what they have and know. In many cases immigrants are cast in an “us” and “them” scenario. And immigrants are not the only people groups that can be seen in an “us” and “them” framework. When we create perceived differences between ourselves and another group of people, we are denying that they too were created in the image of God. When we allow greed to put up a barrier between us and our neighbors, we are holding tightly to what we have always known or had and are not allowing God’s love to work in our neighborhood, in our community, in our world, or in our own heart.

The rich man was focused only on self. He could not see all he had to offer his neighbors. His greed prevented him from seeing beyond himself and from experiencing God’s love at work. In the end, what good did all that grain do him? Storing up and holding things for ourselves – goods, money, time, compassion, prayers, empathy, a place at the table – does not make us rich towards God either. May we all learn a little from the rich man and from the church that opened its doors to those outside. May we practice what we learn.

Prayer: Lord God, who is out there today for me to engage? Lead me to share your love with another today. Soften my heart and open my eyes, hands, and feet. Amen.


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A Season of Sin

Reading: Hosea 1: 1-10

Verse 2: “The land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord”.

Hosea is a prophet that lived during the divided kingdom. Israel and Judah are separate nations, each with their own king. Hosea first preached in Israel and then, after they fell into captivity, he preached in Judah. The king of Israel had instituted idol worship and the people became unfaithful to God in every way. Their relationship with God was in tatters.

God calls Hosea and instructs him to marry Gomer, who is a harlot or prostitute. This marriage represents God’s relationship with Israel. They are running around with false gods. They have chosen to step outside of the loving, covenant relationship that God offers in exchange for the worldly worship of idols. Israel had turned to the things of this world and the emptiness that it brings. Yet God remains present and longs for his people to return. In our world many have turned to things other than God. At times we too choose to turn from the things of God. We can pursue the power and wealth and popularity that the world dangles in front of us. We can chase after things that lead us away from our relationship with God.

Hosea and Gomer have children. These children’s names each have meaning. The first is Jezreel. This is a bloody massacre that occurred in the past that was displeasing to God. The idol worship and related letting of much blood is now displeasing to God. Their daughter is named Lo- Ruhamah, which means ‘no mercy’. God will not show mercy now. The people will be defeated and taken off into exile. Israel will experience the consequence of their sins. The third child is named Lo-Ammi, which translates to ‘not my people’. Because of their sin, there will be separation. Israel will not be God’s people and he will not be their God. God’s patience appears to have come to an end.

When we allow temptation to lead us to sin, we too have a moment or season when we do not deserve God’s mercy. When we are willfully living in sin, we cannot receive God’s mercy. In those moments or seasons of sinful living we too have stepped outside of our covenant relationship. It is a cold and dark place to be. It is a place we can find ourselves at times, but it is not a place we must remain. Our faithful God waits patiently, continues to love us, longs for us to repent and to come back into right relationship. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, stories like today’s are hard to read. They are hard to read because they point out a reality that can be our lives too. Sin is ever at the door. Help me, O God, to ever turn from sin and towards you. Amen.


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A Plumb Line

Reading: Amos 7: 7-9

Verse 8: “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer”.

God has called Amos out of the field to be a prophet to his people. The people have been living in ways that are displeasing to God. The king has led the people astray and the priest has followed along. The king and priest and the people are comfortable, even happy, in the lifestyle that they have settled into. The practices of caring for the other – the widows, orphans, needy… – have all been laid aside. Amos has been sent to pronounce judgment.

Today’s passage begins with God standing by a wall that has been built perfectly true. The wall and it’s perfection represent the law. The law is what is just and true and right. God stands by his wall. He asks Amos what he sees. Amos is still faithful to God and to the law. He sees a plumb line showing the wall to be true. God says to Amos, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer”. Amos is the plumb line. It is his voice that will try to call the people back to right and holy living. God will not spare them. Their hearts have become hard because they have come to love other things. Destruction and ruin will come. The voice of the prophet is not enough to fix all that is wrong.

In our world and perhaps in our lives we find much that is askew and wrong. For a long time the world has preached power and wealth and popularity. These things have been emphasized so long that they are the norm and they are embraced. To say that accumulating excessive wealth is wrong is looked at as abnormal today. The world sees self as #1 so to encourage people to care deeply for the needy draws odd looks. Amos’ world and our world are pretty similar.

In our world and in our lives, where is God calling us to apply the plumb line? Where can we make things align better with God and his plans?

Prayer: Lord, help me to search deeply within, to search for what needs to be set right. Give me the courage to change what needs changed. Go with me, O God. Amen.