pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Called to Go

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-46

Verse 40: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”.

Today’s passage is an interesting one to begin the new year with. I think it is very appropriate. As we consider our year ahead, our faith should be our first consideration. Our faith calls us to follow Jesus and this passage speaks directly to what that looks like. He is the light and hope and love of the world. Matthew 25 challenges us to be all of these things. It especially calls us to the poor and to the marginalized.

In all of our cities, towns, communities, neighborhoods, and churches, we have folks who are hungry and thirsty – physically and spiritually and emotionally. To these, may we offer sustenance, God’s Word, and support and encouragement. We all have folks around us who are strangers or on the outside looking in. To these may we offer fellowship and belonging. We all know others who are lacking adequate clothing or other necessities. To these may we offer a coat or whatever else we can to meet their needs. We all know folks who are sick or who are incarcerated. To these may we offer our presence and our prayers. We can go and spend time, offering encouragement and the light of Jesus Christ.

For many of us, today is a day off. Who can we take a little time to bless today? Will it be one who is hungry or thirsty? Will it be one who is sick or imprisoned? Will it be one in need? It is to these that we are called to go. In going to these, we meet Jesus in their presence. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”. May we do for Jesus today.

Prayer: Lord, put me where I can see you today. Lead me to those in need, to those on the edges. Amen.


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Favorites

Reading: James 2: 1-7

Verse 1: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism”.

James is addressing our tendency to play favorites today. In reading his short illustration we think that we would never do such a thing. We also think that we would be glad to equally welcome one and all into our meetings on Sunday morning. In reality, sometimes our practice does not match our actions and sometimes we are just not very welcoming.

We tend to gravitate to people we know and to people who we think are most like us when in a crowd of strangers. This is true of almost all people, regardless of level of wealth. Observe any gathering – church potluck, community event, ballgame… – and you will see this play out. Here us an example. Folks walk into our monthly Fellowship Meal at church and they look around the room to decide where to sit. They survey the open seats and select to sit by their closest friends currently present. If they are the first to arrive or if they arrive early and no close friend is there, they sit and watch the door, hoping to see a familiar face to wave to as an invitation to join them. We often have guests from outside the church come too. They are the same way! They took seek out a familiar face amongst a group of relative strangers.

The true test of how welcoming and nonjudgmental we are comes when a person or couple comes in alone. They will get food and find a place to sit. Sometimes, if they do not know anyone, they will sit by themselves. Usually someone from the church will go over with a cup of coffee or lemonade and will sit down to chat with them. This gesture is an important way to let our guest know that they are welcome and it can begin to build a sense of belonging. It is an essential first step to sharing God’s love with others.

Ideally we are welcoming to one and all. James sums up why in verse one: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism”. Why Jesus as our example? Because He truly loved and valued and honestly engaged with one and all. When we study Jesus in the Gospels, we do find an awesome example to follow.

Father God, help me to love as Jesus loved. Help me to see all people as You see them and to treat them as Jesus did. All people are your children. Lord, help me to love them like I know you do. Amen.


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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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Dwell

Reading: Psalm 91: 1-6

The psalmist finds great refuge in God and wants us to do the same as well.  The pestilence, disease, evils that creep in the night, the snares – so much that the psalmist faced!  Our reality is that we too face much.  Children too often grow up on their own, young adults enter the ‘reap world’ often with a huge debt load or without the education necessary to earn a living wage, and our elderly are too often housed in a facility, largely forgotten by family.  It is no wonder people are longing for love, hope, mercy, justice, and a sense of security and belonging.  Life can be hard.  But into this challenging scene the Lord our God tries to make a way.  God desires to bring us thelove, hope, mercy, justice, and a sense of security and belonging that we all seek.

The psalmist reminds us that God seeks to be our refuge and our shelter.  But God will not force us into choosing to receive these things.  “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High” is how the Psalm begins.  He who dwells.  We have a role to play in experiencing rest, cover, a shield about us, and an absence of fear.  We must choose to dwell each day in God’s presence.  To dwell in another’s presence implies a long-term relationship, one with some commitment.  To dwell in God’s presence does not involve flitting in and out as it suits our needs.

When we dwell in God’s presence we are constantly in contact with God.  We turn to God in prayer throughout the day.  We spend time each day reading and meditating upon the Word.  Through these disciplines we come to know and trust in God.  It is then that we begin to find thelove, hope, mercy, justice, and a sense of security and belonging that we so desire.  May we each dwell in God’s presence this day and every day.


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Community and Service

Reading: Acts 9: 36-43

A true community has many benefits.  First of all, it fills our basic need to belong.  But it also goes far beyond this.  When we are part of a faith community, it allows us to serve together to build the kingdom of God.  Together we find much encouragement and strength.  Together we can more easily express our faith.  Communities of faith can both serve each other and can go out into the world to serve.

A true community of faith also shares we each other.  This does require a level of trust and vulnerability, so it is something that develops and deepens over time.  Joys are lifted up and celebrated; burdens are shared and carried by many.  A true community also shares in the small things and in the daily struggles.  There is an increasing level of accountability that grows and facilitates our day to day living.  When we can be honest and vulnerable with each other we lift one another up in prayer, we check in on how the battle is going, we sharpen and encourage one another.

Tabitha and her community shared many of these traits of true community.  Tabitha shared her talents and resources with those near her by making clothes and other items.  She not only helped with their basic needs but poured love into what she gave.  This is just one example of how Tabitha cared for her friends and fellow widows.  At her passing, it brought great grief to her faith community as she was central to the group and the bonds of community that had developed.  She was the one all sought out in times of need or in a crisis.

Peter must have sensed all of this as he entered into the house that day.  Sensing the community’s deep need for her at this particular time, God, through Peter, restored her to them.  It was an extraordinary act of love.  It reveals His love for us and how much He values community because of how it helps us grow in our faith and service to others.  May we each seek to find and experience and live within a true community of faith.


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His Love

Reading: Acts 9: 36-43

As human beings one of our greatest non-physical needs is to belong. As social creatures, we need to feel like we are a part of the group and that we matter to others.  In turn we feel a need to have others feel that they  matter to us, that they are important parts of our life.

In today’s reading this is shown as a dear friend, Tabitha, passes away.  She seems to be the glue that held this small community together, so the grief is especially deep.  She not only shared her presence and love with her friends, she also showed it in her actions and in how she gave physical gifts to them as well.  Her friends and the two disciples who are present decide to send for Peter, who is in a nearby town.  The depth of love in this small community is amazing.

The depth of this love has power.  The level of caring is evident.  Peter comes and cares for Tabitha’s friends by restoring their dear friend to life.  By the power of this miracle many outside the group of friends come to believe in the Lord.

We too use the love of Jesus to form bonds of friendship among fellow believers.  Through study and fellowship we can find deep, caring relationships that meet our need to belong and to matter to others.  In turn we care for and love one another in acts of presence and in acts of service and in sharing together the love we find in Jesus.

This same love and actions that emulate His love and example can be brought out into the world.  Just as Tabitha’s resuscitation brought new believers to faith in Christ, our words and acts of service to others can help them to come to know Christ.  Our words and deeds may not be miracles in and of themselves like the miracle in today’s story, but they are the seeds that one day can lead to another coming to know Christ.  It is all about planting seeds and sharing His love.  May we plant well today!


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The New Family

Jesus claims all followers as His family.  Ina sense, our church family is often a second family for some people.  For a few, it can be their only family.  In Jesus’ day, choosing to follow Him would mean leaving your family roots.  Your Jewish family would not understand or would maybe shun you in extreme cases.

This could happen today but it is much less likely.  The choice of distancing is usually ours.  Becoming a follower sometimes forces these choices as we set aside relationships that are not healthy or conducive to our new life.  It can be a hard choice at times.

As Jesus claims us into this new family, we gain a new sense of hope, love, belonging.  The troubles of life are easier to deal with.  The love seems more genuine.  Many times it feels like we are truly home.  May His presence in our lives and our presence in the lives of His family be strong in our life.

Scripture reference: Mark 3: 20-21 and 31-35