pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Plan

Reading: Luke 5: 8-11

Verse 8: “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man”.

Peter, James, and John experience a miracle. In the same lake that they caught absolutely nothing a couple of hours ago, they now catch a huge amount of fish. At the time of day when they don’t usually fish because you usually catch fish at night, they catch a huge amount of fish. In the same nets that they often catch some fish, they have a huge amount of fish. They are astonished.

Simon Peter will always be the one to speak or act out without thinking, without considering the affects or the consequences. It is Peter who voices what James and John must’ve been feeling too. Peter says, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man”. In the presence of holiness, Peter sees himself as unworthy. Standing next to the light, Peter becomes aware of his own darkness. This is what the light does: it reveals what is hidden in the darkness. This is what continues to make people uncomfortable with living a life of faith. The light reveals what must die within us. To follow Jesus we must first look within and admit what must go. We first die to self and then to our sins. These thoughts scared Peter and led him to make his confession: “I am a sinful man”.

Jesus does not see this as a barrier. Yes, it is something that we must get past. Yes, it is something hard. Yes, it requires discipline and effort. But, when we walk with Jesus Christ, our sins are something we can overcome. Jesus had absolute confidence in the fact that He is the path to the Father; that He is the way, the truth, and the life; and, that one can be saved solely by faith in Him alone. Jesus says to Simon Peter, “don’t be afraid”. Jesus knows the life that He offers is the only true life. Yes, stepping out of the darkness and into the light is scary – it reveals our warts and blemishes and our sins. And just as Jesus invites Peter, so too does He invite all people.

Jesus continues, telling Peter, “from now on you will catch men”. Not only does Jesus tell Peter not to be afraid, He also tells Peter that He has a plan for him. And what a plan it is! Peter, James, and John leave all behind that day – all they owned – and followed Jesus.

Jesus has a plan for each of our lives as well. He has a purpose for each of us in His kingdom here on earth. What is Jesus asked me to leave behind so that I can come and follow Him more closely?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, reveal to me that which I must let go of or courageously step into to best follow you. Guide me Jesus. Thank you! Amen.

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A Beautiful Vision

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 19: “You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens… with Jesus Christ himself as the cheif cornerstone”.

There is an old saying about fences not making good neighbors. They separate and keep us apart. Fences are like barriers. Each one of us is a unique creation of God. As unique creations we have characteristics that can make us look and feel and seem different from one another. “Can” is an important word. How we see each other is dependent upon our perspective.

In Ephesians 2, Paul is writing about the family of God. As Christians, this should be our identity. Through Jesus Christ, God reconciled all people to Himself. In Jesus’ eyes there is no skin color, no ethnicity, no gender, no past, no… All are His brothers and sisters. All are part of the family. There are no “foreigners and aliens” but only “fellow citizens” in God’s family.

We are united by Jesus Christ as we are “brought near through the blood of Christ”. It is His blood that washes away our sin. It is only our sin that separates us from God and, therefore, from the family. Sin is the only barrier that God sees. Through Jesus Christ we are restored and renewed and are made acceptable in God’s sight. This, to me, is why Jesus is the “chief cornerstone” – upon Jesus we all stand.

When this is our understanding of how we, sinners all, are made new creations who stand blameless in the family of God, then our understanding of each other is no longer earthly but heavenly. Like our sins, in Christ all the things that could separate us and could create barriers are also washed away. From this perspective, we are all simply children of God, united by the one Spirit. When we see each other this way, we see as Jesus sees. It is a beautiful vision for our world. May we each help this to become a bit more of a reality today. Amen.


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Compassion

Reading: Mark 6: 30-34 and 53-56

Verse 34: “He had compassion on them, because they were like a sheep without a shepherd”.

When I think of Jesus, I usually think about love. It is the one word I would use to describe Him. Today’s key verse reads, “He had compassion on them, because they were like a sheep without a shepherd”. I think compassion would be a good word for Jesus too. After all, it is closely related to love.

The primary efforts of Jesus’ ministry we’re teaching and healing. They really went hand in hand. All that Jesus taught revolved around a handful of key themes: love God above all else, love others as Jesus first loved us, care for those in need, and worship God in all we do and say. The healings also revolved around a handful of themes: restoring a person to wholeness, returning people to community, breaking down barriers. All of Jesus’ teachings and healings point to the ideal world that God created and is ever at work to bring into being.

The powers of Jesus’ day heard Jesus’ teachings and saw the purposes of His healings. Both threatened their power and they found a way to be rid of Him. Jesus had very little wealth or material possessions. He encouraged His followers to be the same way. He knew that greed and jealousy were the enemies of love and compassion. The ideas of having less and caring for the other run very counter to culture today. Even the most faithful of Christians gets a little uncomfortable when they really wrestle with the idea of just having enough so that all can have some. This is the heart of caring for those in need. Not all people we meet are good and kind and sometimes people make poor choices. These things all challenge our call to fully love all people as Jesus loves them.

To live a life that emulates the compassion of Jesus is really hard. To teach others by our example and to heal the brokenness of our world is a daily struggle because it always calls for less of us and more of Jesus. Although difficult, it is a calling worthy of pursuing. Although we will stumble and fail, it is a narrow road worth walking. May we all ever seek to live out the compassion of Jesus this day, being a fragrant offering to all we meet. May it be so for me and for you.


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Barriers and Boundaries

Reading: Acts 8: 26-40

Verse 27: “He met an Ethiopian eunuch… this man had gone to Jerusalem to worship”.

I would love to know the faith back story of the eunuch. He lives in a place far from Jerusalem yet worships God. I would love to know how this man came to know and worship God. Did he learn of God from a Jewish person living in Ethiopia? Did he hear of God from a merchant or businessman passing through the court of the queen?

Whatever the case, his faith in God leads him to come to Jerusalem, the home of God, to worship. But he clearly did not know all the ins and outs of the Jewish faith as he left Ethiopia. He now understands a bit more. The eunuch traveled all that way only to discover that he was not welcome at the temple. He did not meet their requirements. Many others did not either.

Exclusion remains an issue today. Even in the modern world some institutions and places and groups of people exclude others based on color of skin, gender or sexual preference, language, social class, educational level… We can also exclude because “that’s not how we do it here” types of traditions and practices. There are many other ways that we can create barriers and draw boundaries.

Amazingly, the eunuch’s faith is stronger than the rejection he felt at the temple. He is found reading from Isaiah 53. Led by the Spirit, Philip engages the man and answers his question. Philip explains that the passage is speaking of Jesus and then he goes on to share the good news that a relationship with Jesus Christ offers. As they near some water, the eunuch asks to be baptized. Philip baptizes the eunuch. This foreigner, this eunuch, this rejected man is fully accepted by God. In this passage we see that God does not draw barriers or boundaries. All are His beloved and all are welcome to a saving relationship with His Son, Jesus.

The story ends with Philip being taken away to evangelize elsewhere and the eunuch continues his journey, rejoicing in his newfound faith in Jesus Christ. It is a good ending, but we cannot stop here. We must take time to look within and ponder how our churches exclude others. When I look at my church, I see that it does not match the diverse demographics of the community. Does your church match your community’s diversity? If not, you have the same question as I do: why?


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A Wider Circle

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-28

Verse 27: Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.

A woman whose daughter is demon-possessed comes to Jesus seeking healing for her daughter.  She must have heard of the miracles that Jesus was performing and she comes seeking a miracle for her daughter.  But she does not fit into the mold.  She does not check off the boxes of belonging.  She is not of the chosen people.  She is a Gentile.  The man we know as love rejects her.  In our mind’s eye we see a Jesus who always leads with love and who welcomes everyone, even sinners.  Suddenly our vision is a bit blurry.

After ignoring her for a while, she becomes annoying and the disciples ask Jesus to send her away.  His response: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”.  But she does not give up.  She comes and kneels before Jesus, saying, “Lord, help me”!  It is a desperate mother’s cry for healing.  Surely Jesus will show her love and cast out the demon from her daughter.  Nope.  He tells her He will not take the children’s bread and give it to the “dogs”.  Not only ‘no’ but an insult to boot!

In the first half of the passage, we recall Jesus trying to correct the Pharisees for a law that was a barrier keeping people from God.  And now Jesus himself uses a ‘rule’ to keep a woman at a distance, certainly outside of God’s love.  It is a game we are good at too.  If you are not dressed right or if you don’t have membership or if you are of another culture or if…  We also easily erect barriers that keep people out or at least at bay.  In a similar way, we allow differences to become reasons for why we do not go out and engage the lost.  But she does not give up.  She is persistent.

“Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table”.  She says, ok, you can try and reject me and you can insult me, but I still want your help.  It’s hard to say what affected Jesus more – her deep love for her daughter or the faith she had that He could heal her.  He heals her daughter.  And she leaves Jesus changed.  The human Jesus now loves more.  He sees a wider circle.  God’s love is for all people.  Today, may we too look beyond the barriers in our own hearts and may we begin to love a wider circle.


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#1 Tradition

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-28

Verse 18: The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’.

Every year for Christmas my family gathers after church on Christmas Eve and we open one present.  The present is always the same: new pajamas.  For Thanksgiving every year we always have green bean casserole and chocolate chess pie.  It feels like we have been doing these things forever.

Our churches also have traditions.  Most churches do.  In today’s passage, Jesus is addressing one of these traditions.  It began like many of our church traditions did and has become almost law by this point.  One day long ago someone started something and soon enough it became tradition.  For the Pharisees that Jesus is addressing, these traditions were very important.  Many of their traditions or laws were based on generations of interpretations of the Bible.  Much of it therefore had come not necessarily straight from God but from man’s interpretation of the Word.  A good, modern day example would be baptism.  In the Bible we do have some examples of baptisms and some understandings of what it means and why one is baptized.  But there is no place in the Bible where it defines exactly how and when a baptism should occur.  Yet this topic causes division and differences and barriers between us.  The same can be said of communion.  I think this makes Jesus sad.

In today’s passage Jesus is dealing with a rule that creates a barrier.  Many of the religious traditions or laws created barriers to people because they kept people away from God.  Ritualistic and detailed handwashing became the rule for the Pharisees.  Eat without perfectly pristine hands and you know what happens…  But Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean'”.  He is saying that what is in a person’s heart is what makes them spiritually clean or unclean, not the condition of their hands.  If evil resides in our hearts, then we are unclean spiritually.  If good resides, then we are clean.  To Jesus, a person’s heart is what mattered.

Jesus’ most important question is: “Do you love me”?  For Jesus love was always the guide and the first consideration.  That’s why He ate with unclean sinners and why he healed on the Sabbath.  Love triumphed.  Faith is not about the tradition or the laws or the unwritten rules.  It is about letting love lead and serving and ministering to others in love.

What traditions or ‘rules’ create barriers in our churches?  How do we make love the #1 tradition or the rule?


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Unconditional

Reading: Psalm 23: 5-6

Verse 5: Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.

Friends are important.  We want to be loved and to love others.  As human beings, we need and seek community.  We each want to fit in or have our place in a community.

Today’s first verse in our passage is a bit disconcerting.  God prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies.  It is wonderful that God is preparing a table for us and that He will anoint us with oil and make our cup overflow.  But in the presence of our enemies?  Yes, in their presence too.  God’s love is universal.  All are created as a child of God and are dearly loved by their maker.  God calls us to love one and all as well.  We are not identical to each other and therefore we will have differences.  We even fight and argue occasionally with those we love the most.  So God is calling us to the table of His love with both our friends and our enemies alike, asking us to unconditionally extend His love to one and all.

In doing so we will naturally begin to break down some of the walls and barriers that we construct.  In loving our enemies as God loves them we begin to see them differently.  We begin to see the ways in which we are alike and ways in which God dwells deeply in them as well.  It can be profoundly transforming to love all people as God loves them.  When we do so, then “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life”.

May we be bearers of God’s unconditional goodness and love today.