pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Led by Compassion

Reading: Luke 10: 29-37

Verse 36: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers”?

Traditions and stereotypes are great influencers. They are a part of life. Growing up we inherit and learn about the world and people around us from our parents and families. Systems and institutions also influence us as we begin to go to school… These influencers can be good and they can be bad. We can learn to be compassionate and generous, to be honest, to work hard, to be a person of faith. We can learn to be selfish, to take advantage of others, to be prejudiced and biased.

In this familiar parable, the priest and Levite both pass by on the other side of the road. Depending on the influencers that we grew up with, their action can be seen poorly or as acceptable. These two men are also products of the families, groups, and institutions that they grew up in. Most certainly they too felt compassion for the man. Who wouldn’t? But the stronger force was the years and years of training and teaching that said to avoid becoming ceremonially unclean. It would break a law. Life for them was all about their position and living within the guidelines of the law.

I too have been guilty of passing by someone I could have helped. The “law” of ‘don’t be late for work’ has led me to pass by on more than one occasion. The “law” of ‘you have something more important to do, someone else will stop’ has also led me to pass by. Stereotypes and being judgmental have also led me to pass by at times. This parable is so hard because we’ve all walked many times in the shoes of the priest and Levite.

We do not know much about the Samaritan. We do not know if he was rich or poor. We do not know if he was a Godly man or if he worshipped idols. What we do know is that he allowed the compassion that all of us would have felt to become what drove his decisions and actions. He invested both time and money in caring for the one in need. We do not know much about the Samaritan, but we do know that if we were in Jesus’ story, we sure hope we’d stop too. It is a matter of choice. The lawyer knew who the neighbor was. So do we. Jesus encourages the lawyer to “go and do likewise”. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord, you call me to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you. Fill me with compassion for those in need. Lead me to stop and care for those I meet today. Amen.

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Just Pray

Reading: 2 Kings 5: 1-14

Verse 1: “He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy”.

Naaman was a great man: valiant, highly regarded, a man of authority. But he had leprosy. His title, his authority, his strength – nothing could save him from this painful and incurable disease. Except God. It must have been hard for such a man to be powerless to do anything about his disease.

Then God goes to work. First step is to place someone in Naaman’s home who can begin the process. The young Israelite slave girl says there is someone who can help. It probably would have been hard for Naaman to accept help from her, but he needs healing. The king hears his request and sends him off with a letter to the king of Israel asking to heal Naaman. He receives the letter as an attempt to pick a fight. He is distraught. But Elisha hears of his plight and intervenes, telling the king to send Naaman his way, to the prophet.

Naaman makes his way to Elisha’s home. He expects to be treated in a certain way. He expects Elisha to come out to receive him, to do something wonderful to cure his leprosy. But Elisha just sends out a servant with some basic instructions. Naaman has had all of the following of orders that he can take. He becomes angry and is ready to storm home, leprosy and all. Again, God intervenes through a servant – another without power who is now powerful. The servant calms Naaman and convinces the master to follow God’s simple plan. He does and is cured.

How often I am like Naaman. I think I can do something even when I obviously cannot. My faith tells me to pray. I think God must act in some big and amazing way. My faith tells me to just pray. How simple is it: just pray. Trust in God, the only one in control. Follow the simple path that he is leading me on. Turn to him in all things through prayer. Just pray. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when I think I can, remind me again that it is only through you and your power that all is possible. May I turn to you in humble prayer. Amen.


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Spirit Led

Reading: Galatians 5: 1 & 16-25

Verse 25: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”.

The passage for today contrasts the fruit of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. In many ways these are polar opposites. The works of the flesh are the selfish desires that we all have inside and that lead us to living a life that is not in alignment with God’s plans and purposes for our lives. On the other side of the spectrum are the works of the Spirit. When we live in alignment with these godly things we produce good fruit.

The works of the flesh are many. We are each familiar with these things. Paul provides a list in verses 19-21 that are “obvious”, to use Paul’s word. This list of sins contains many that most of us struggle with: jealousy, selfish ambition, envy – just to name a few. We each could add to the list as well: pride, lust, greed, and gluttony – again, just to name a few. Paul warns us that those living this way “will not enter the kingdom of God”. It is the reality that we all live within and that we all struggle with because we are creatures of the flesh.

Even though we are of the flesh, our inheritance does not lie here on earth. As heirs with Jesus Christ, we are children of God. When we keep ahold of this side of our character, then we are led by the Spirit. There is still this conflict within us, but we are not fighting the war alone. We are not even in charge. When we live by the Spirit our lives are different. Instead of the fruit produced by the flesh, we produce Holy Spirit fruit. Instead of guilt and shame and doubt and fear and condemnation we experience love and joy and patience and kindness and… The fruit is both within and without. When led by the Spirit we produce good fruit for the building of our faith and for the building of the kingdom of God here on earth. Therefore brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my battle within is almost constant. But the presence of your Holy Spirit is always constant. Attune me better to the lead of the Holy Spirit so that the fruit of my life may ever be pleasing to your sight. Amen.


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See the Father

Reading: John 14: 8-17

Verse 9: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”.

When asked questions about my mentors or people who had serious influence on my life, my first thoughts are always my parents. My mom was a teacher and for my first career I taught middle school for 23 years. My dad had a great work ethic and was a planner, an organizer. These traits I have inherited from my dad. Both of my parents had a great influence on my second career as a pastor. My parents both have a big heart for others and a heart for mission and service. As a pastor, the “other” is often a focus of mine, both in the church and in the community. Much of who I am comes from my parents. This idea is the focus of today’s passage.

In our passage today Jesus says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”. In essence Jesus is saying if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God. He goes on to explain that the words He is saying are not His words but God’s words. Jesus also makes clear that the works, the miracles, are because He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. The disciples struggle with this idea. It is not easy to fit this idea into their understandings of God. All these years later we see Jesus as God incarnate, as God in the flesh. We draw these understandings from the birth stories that we have in the gospels. For the disciples, they have known Jesus just a few years. It is one thing to be sent by God – like the prophets. It is another thing to be one with God.

As if this were not enough for the disciples to wrap their heads around, Jesus goes on in verse 12 to say, “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing”. The greatest person they have ever known, their hero, says they will be doing what He has done if only they have faith. Not only that, but “even greater things because I am going to the Father”. Imagine being a follower and hearing all of this.

In our last few verses, Jesus starts to offer the “how” – the explanation. To all who obey Jesus’ commands, to all who love Him, God will send the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus will come to them and dwell in them. Although not fully sure of what this really means, it does begin the explanation for the disciples. Like a good parent, the Holy Spirit will come to lead and guide, to direct and correct, to teach and remind, to strengthen and encourage the followers of Jesus Christ as they grow to become more like Him. This too is our journey and our mission. Through the Holy Spirit, may we become more like Jesus and more like the Father.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for my parents and for all who have poured into me, influencing my walk of faith. Continue to send people into my life that call me closer to you. Thank you also for the Spirit, the presence of Jesus and you in me. May it speak clearly in my life each day. Amen.


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Praise the Creator

Reading: Psalm 104: 24-34 & 35b

Verse 24: “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures”.

I cannot but help to look out the office window and see the green grass and tall trees gently swaying in the breeze. The sun is shining and even those little yellow dandelions have a beauty to them. There are still a few wet patches in the road – left by the softly falling rain that came by last evening. There are also a few birds chirping and singing to add an auditory sense to the scene outside. Verse 24 opens our Psalm today with these words: “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures”. How true, how true!

Each element of the created world is imagined and made by God. That ranges from the minute amoeba to you and I to the vast array of stars and planets. All of it was created by God. The natural cycle of life is in verses 28 and 29. When God opens His hand, creation is satisfied. When God takes away breath, to dust all returns. In this too is a beauty because it is ordained and orchestrated by God.

In verse 30 the Spirit enters the story. With the Spirit we are created – the breath of life enters. As the Spirit continues to breathe life into us, “you renew the face of the earth”. To the grass, the trees, the birds… the breath of God’s Spirit brings the new leaves each spring… But to us, those created in God’s image, those who are counted as the children of God, this renewal is spiritual. Over and over the Holy Spirit sweeps through our lives, making us new again. The Spirit of God alive in us renews us over and over.

In verse 33 we read, “I will sing to the Lord all my life”. What an appropriate response to God’s renewing power in our lives. May we join the psalmist and all of creation today as we sing our joyful praise to the Lord!

Prayer: Creator God, thank you for tuning my heart and soul to the beauty of your creation. May I ever marvel at the works of your hand and may that always lead me to praise your wonderful name. Amen.


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Open Heart

Reading: Acts 16: 11-15

Verse 14: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message”.

As we read the second half of this week’s passage from Acts, a theme continues: God is at work. A vision came to Paul and he obediently followed it. In today’s section Paul travels and comes to Philippi, the leading city in Macedonia. Likely having no synagogue yet, Paul and his companions head to a likely place for people to gather for prayer – along the river. Beside the river they find a group of women praying and they sit down to talk with them. Paul starts to preach about Jesus.

The group of women gathered at the river are a group of God-worshippers. On the Sabbath, the holy day, they have gone to a special place to pray. Among them is a woman named Lydia. She is from another town but her business has brought her to the bigger city. There is more of a market for her purple cloth. This is a luxury item so we can assume Lydia is a person of wealth. At some point in her life she has encountered the Jewish faith and became a proselyte, a convert to faith. Lydia goes to the river to practice her faith by worshipping and praying to God. Her she encounters the man called by God in a vision to “come… and help us”. As Paul shares the good news of Jesus Christ, “the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message”. God goes to work and opens Lydia’s heart to respond to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Lydia’s response leads to two actions. First, Lydia and her whole household are baptized into Christ. She makes a public profession of Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. She and her household join the family of faith. Second, Lydia extends hospitality to Paul and his companions by inviting and persuading them to come and stay at her house. Both of these actions are also the hand of God at work in Lydia’s life.

Like with Paul, part of today’s story is about our response. God nudges or prompts Lydia by opening her heart. It is up to Lydia to invite Jesus to step through that opening, to allow Jesus to come into her heart. The next nudges come and again Lydia is responsive – being baptized and then generously offering her home to Paul and his companions. What a willing heart Lydia has!

As we live out our days, may we be as receptive and responsive and open to God’s lead as Lydia was. May we too seek to be obedient to God’s hand at work in our lives.

Prayer: Leading God, open my heart too. Pry wide open my tight control and my love of order and routine. Free me to respond more quickly and more obediently to the opportunities in my life to preach the good news and to help others commit to you. Amen.


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All Things New

Reading: Revelation 21: 1-6

Verse 1: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”.

There are two kinds of people in the world when it comes to broken things. One type is quickly willing to discard the broken item and purchase a new one if necessary. The other type will tinker and tinker, will try this and that, to repair the item to get just a little more life out of it. When you think of God and our world, which type is God?

I tend to fall into the second category. I will try and repair it, to somehow get a little more use out of it. Sometimes if it is mechanical my limited ability and knowledge forces me to seek a mechanic or repair person. Even then I am willing to try a little something to get more time out of the vehicle or lawnmower. Which type are you?

When we think about our relationships, we fall into similar categories too. When our relationships are great and going well, life is good. But once in a while we hit a bump in the road. It is at these points that we must make a similar decision: do I want to save this relationship or do I just want to let it go? This question applies to all of our relationships – from parents to spouses to best friends to co-workers or classmates to acquaintances. Some of us will do all we can to reconcile or to save the relationship. Others will quickly walk away. When you think about God, which type is God?

In our passage today, God gets to the point of starting over, of bringing total healing. Our key verse reads, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”. There will come a day when all things are made new. A reboot happened once, when God covered the face of the earth with water. After the flood, God said not again. The next time will be final. Since then God has been working to renew our lives, getting some more good years out of us. God continues to be at work in our world, drawing all things to Him. God works in us, ever refining us to be more like Him. God never gives up on us, always extending mercy and grace and forgiveness. Our God is a loving and patient God. Yes, the new heaven and earth will be beautiful beyond words. But for now, I rejoice in God’s love and patience with me and with our world.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your deep, deep love that continues to work in my heart and in my life. When I fail and create some separation between you and I, all you do is reach out and call me back. Thank you for your example of love and grace. Amen.