pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Willing?

Reading: Acts 8: 26-40

Verse 34: “The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else'”?

There are three active characters in our passage today. The three are Philip, the eunuch, and the Holy Spirit. As followers of Christ, the Holy Spirit is an active part of our lives, just as it was with both Philip and the eunuch. Sometimes in our lives we are like Philip and like the eunuch is the other. At other times we are like the eunuch and the role of Philip is played by a teacher or a mentor or other more mature Christian. In either case, the work of God hinges on our willingness.

The first level of willingness comes from within and asks, ‘How willing are you to listen to and to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit’? We all hear the voice and feel the nudges. Do we demonstrate a willingness to follow whatever or wherever the Spirit leads? In this, we can be the teacher or we can be the seeker, the one serving or the one in need.

When we are the seeker, like the Ethiopian eunuch in today’s passage, are we willing to say, “Tell me please?” when we have questions or doubts or curiosity? At times we too need another to help us along on our faith journey or on our walk through the dark valley. We must be willing to receive when that is our need in life.

Sometimes we are approached by or encounter the seeker or the one in need. When we sense the Holy Spirit leading us to the other, like Philip was, are we willing to take the time and to take the risk to give of ourselves? We may not think we gave the knowledge or the skills or the… for the situation, but we can trust that with the Holy Spirit’s power and presence, we will. When we are willing, God will provide the words or the way or whatever else we need to help another grow closer to Christ.

This day God will provide opportunity. It may be for us to grow in our faith, it may be for us to help another grow in their faith, or it might just do both. May we be willing servants today. Amen.


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Covenant Love and Grace

Reading: Genesis 17: 1-7 and 15-16

Verse 7: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant… to be your God and the God of your descendants after you”.

Our God is the God of covenants. A covenant establishes a relationship between two parties. In today’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah, God establishes the covenant to be our God. As the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, we are certainly included in this covenant. Just as it was with each of us as the Holy Spirit wooed us into a relationship with God, so too did God take the initiative to start a covenant relationship with Abraham and Sarah. Abraham had trusted and obeyed God and had lived a righteous life. God, in turn, chose to bless Abraham and Sarah (and us) with His covenant promise.

Although a covenant is an “I’ll love you no matter what” promise, we do still like our rules and ways to measure our relationships. We like to know what we have to do, to know how we are doing, to know how we compare to others… But our covenant relationship with God is not about checking off boxes or measuring up to some standard. It is all about God’s grace. Grace is the “no matter what” part of our relationship with God. God loves us no matter what we do or do not do, no matter what we say or do not say, no matter how we act or do not act. Grace looks past all of this and says “I love you and will always be your God”.

God invites each of us into this relationship based upon love and grace no matter what. At times, this is uncomfortable and a bit awkward. It is unsettling. As a child and then later as a husband, I’ve had a time or two or more than I can count when I’ve felt a similar love and grace when I did not deserve it. These experiences with unconditional love and forgiveness give us an idea of God’s covenant love and grace. The idea of this much love is a little frightening or even intimidating. But more than that, it is inviting. Over and over and over God invites us to get back up and to walk once again in His grace and love. He invites us to trust in His love and grace, to give up our own need for control, and to surrender fully so that we can walk where He leads. Make me willing today and each day, O Lord.


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Sides of Jesus

Reading: Mark 1: 29-39

Verse 32: “The people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed”.

Today in this section of Mark 1 we continue to see a Jesus who reveals His power and authority through teaching and healing yet also seeks to remain a bit private. Leaving the teaching time at the synagogue, Jesus and the four disciples retire to Simon and Andrew’s house for the night. Upon arriving Jesus takes the initiative to go and heal Simon’s sick mother-in-law. It is an act of love. Despite their going to a private home, soon enough people begin to arrive in large numbers. Our text indicates that “the whole town” gathers. Verse 32 tells us, “The people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed”. Jesus heals and drives out demons in what must have been a long night. In these actions the power and authority of Jesus are very much on display. Yet at the same time He does not allow the demons to speak because they know who He truly is. It is not yet time to make or take the ‘Son of God’ claim.

In the morning we again see the private side of Jesus as He rises very early in the morning and slips off alone to find a place to pray. In this private and personal time Jesus connects to God. Prayer is a necessary thing that Jesus does regularly with God. His growing fame ends this peaceful and intimate time with God as people are searching for the public Jesus. Jesus willingly return to the public to teach and heal, stating, “That is why I came”.

We connect to both sides of Jesus that we see in today’s passage. At times we seek His healing touch to make us well and whole again. At times we seek out Jesus as our example of how to love others as God loves us. At times we go to the Jesus who can expel demons, seeking relief from that sin or temptation we can’t quite overcome. And at times, we seek to be the prayerful Jesus, resting in God’s peace and presence, soaking in His love and grace. In these ways, Jesus is many wonderful things to us. Thanks be to God for the multitude of gifts that Jesus is to us.


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Repent and…

Reading: Mark 1: 14-18

Verse Fifteen: “The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news”.

Jesus begins His earthly ministry in a similar manner to John the Baptist’s ministry.  Like John, Jesus calls the people to repent and then to accept the good news.  Repentance must come first.  We simply cannot walk with Jesus when we have sin in our lives.  Sin, by its nature, separates us from God.  Repentance requires a change in our lives.  Whatever the sin, it leads us away from God.  So if our desire is to be in a relationship with God, then we must turn away from our sin and resubmit our lives to faithful obedience.

As Jesus entered Galilee, the message He preached was all about repentance.  He said over and over, “The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news”.  This theme continued throughout His ministry.  The woman caught in adultery heard this message as Jesus told her, “Go now and leave your life of sin”.  Zacchaeus pledges a new life as he promises to repay all that he has wronged.  Jesus responds by declaring that salvation has come to Zacchaeus that day.  Over and over Jesus calls us to leave our sin behind and to turn to Him.

Repentance is hard.  It would be easier to skip over this part of the passage.  Repentance requires admitting that we did something wrong, that we faltered.  This requires a certain amount of humility.  Pride and ego can get in the way.  Repentance also requires an honest look into ourselves, a searching if you will, to see the sin in our lives.  And lastly, it requires that we commit to being better, to walking a more holy life, to being more like Jesus.

Jesus sought disciples who were willing to put their old life behind them to come and follow Him.  It required a radical change in direction.  Simon and Andrew heard His call and began a new way of life.  It was risky and full of the unknown.  It required trust.  Repentance can bring us these same feelings as we choose to leave a part of ourselves behind and we are not sure where our new self will go.  Just as Jesus called the first disciples, He calls us as well.  Jesus is still seeking followers who are willing to orient their lives to a new way of living over and over.  The journey of faith never ends as our faith is always growing and developing.  The call involves risk for us too.  Are we willing to risk and to trust in wherever Jesus leads?  After all, the call is to come and follow.


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Extraordinary

Reading: Luke 2: 22-40

Verse 22: “Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord”.

Has something surprising happened when you did not expect it?  Can you remember a time when your routine was interrupted by something extraordinary?  When we are faithful, sometimes God shows up in the most unexpected or in the unlikeliest of ways.

On the last Sunday of each month our church has been offering a free meal to the community.  We have had some guests from the community but we’re not getting much response.  Our outreach meal was mostly feeding about 30-40 people from our church.  After six months of meals, I prayed for guidance and direction and was questioning if we should continue the meal.  Then God sent Alma.  She connected the offer of free food with the segment of our community with such a need.  For the December meal we fed over 120 people, most of them a direct result of Alma’s efforts.  God made things happen in an unexpected and surprising way.  Thanks be to God!

The time came for Mary and Joseph to present their child in the temple.  As was according to the Law, they went to the temple and took with them the needed sacrifice.  They were doing what thousands and thousands of devout Jewish parents had always done.  It was a simple trip to and from Jerusalem, maybe do a little shopping while we’re there kind of trip.  But as they are in the temple, God sends not one but two special people to speak about their son.  God suddenly bursts into the ordinary of life.

Our fellowship meal had become a monthly meal where people from our church gathered to eat, fellowship, and spend time together.  Although not really what it was designed for, it was a good thing that was happening.  And then Alma happened.

This is Mary and Joseph’s story too.  Travel, arrive, circumcise, present, offer sacrifice, … and then Simeon happens.  He tells them that Jesus will cause the rising and falling of many.  And then Anna happens.  She tells them that this child will be the redemption of Jerusalem.  God bursts in and Mary and Joseph are amazed.

Where is God going to burst into your life and your world in extraordinary ways?  Are you looking?  Are you praying?  Is the Spirit within you willing?  May the Lord our God do amazing things this day in our lives!


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Are We Willing?

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 20-24

Verse 22: “I will save my flock and they will no longer be plundered”.

Ezekiel is writing to a people who are discouraged and downtrodden.  They feel like the sheep he is describing who are lean, weak, and driven away.  The Israelites have been in exile for many years.  The years have separated them from each other and many of them from their faith.  Even those who did not go into exile have become mixed in with the people living around them.  Ezekiel looks at the people and sees their deep need for a shepherd to rise up who will gather the scattered flock, protecting the weak and poor among them while ruling with justice, compassion, and love.

The need for a good shepherd is very real today.  On a personal level, we need one to walk the walk of faith.  Our inner bent towards sin is in almost constant need of the voice of the good shepherd to guide is on the right path and to keep us from wandering off of the narrow way.  We also need the good shepherd to lead us where we should go at times – to those green pastures.  As we follow Jesus and His teachings and example, we are following the one true good shepherd.  As we follow, we in turn open ourselves up more and more to the voice of the good shepherd as we feel the nudges and hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

This voice calls us to the least and the lost.  It calls us to those who do not know the good shepherd.  The lost are wandering around in the darkness, going from one thing to another, never finding what they truly need.  Others are marginalized and struggle in the simple day to day of life.  The Holy Spirit calls us to them as well.  The least often cannot begin to hear the voice of the good shepherd calling out to them until their basic needs are met.  The need for shelter, food, and safety must be met before there is space for the good shepherd to speak into their lives.

The Good Shepherd says, “I will save my flock and they will no longer be plundered”.  He says this to us in our times of need and encouragement.  He calls us to help bring this message to those who are hurting and broken and lost and discouraged.  Are we willing?