pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Celebrate, Rejoice!

Reading: Esther 7: 1-6 & 9-10

Verse 3: “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”.

The Jews are living as a foreign people, living in exile, scattered throughout the land. In the midst of the foreign culture all around them, they are trying to hold onto their faith, their beliefs, their traditions. Over the years, the Jews have become a part of the fabric of society. One happens to win what is in essence a beauty contest and becomes the queen. Her Jewish faith is strong, but it is practiced privately. A man, her uncle in fact, also has kept his faith in God as an essential part of his life. In doing so, he refused to bow down to a high court official. This slight enrages the man, Haman, and he gets the king to sign an edict to wipe out the Jews. It wasn’t enough to just get revenge on the man.

As the date for the Jews’ destruction nears, Mordecai, the man who refused to bow down, enlists his niece, Esther, to help stop this evil plan. Esther also happens to be the queen. After fasting and praying for three days, Esther approaches the king and sets up a fancy dinner that includes Haman. It is in this setting that the king asks Esther what her petition and request are. Esther answers, “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”. King Xerses is outraged that anyone would dare to do such a thing to Esther and her people. Haman suffers the consequence, being hung on the gallows that he had made especially for Mordecai.

This is a great story of faith in God and of God saving His people. The story is remembered in a yearly festival called Purim. Corporately we also have great stories of faith that we remember each year – Christmas, Easter, Pentecost… We celebrate yearly to remember God’s love and care for us, His children. The story of Esther and many others in the Bible remind us of God’s presence and provision. This day may we rejoice in the stories of faith and in our own personal experiences of God’s hand at work in our lives. Thanks be to God.

God, thank you for the reminders of your steadfast love in stories like Esther’s. Thank you for your hand at work in our lives as well. Thank you for being my God and our God. Amen.

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Unwavering Love

Reading: Mark 7: 24-30

Verse 29: “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter”.

Jesus has left Galilee and enters into a non-Jewish region. It appears to be an intentional choice as our passage tells us that He “did not want anyone to know it”. His little get-away is soon discovered and a woman from the regions appears, seeking healing for her daughter.

People today often seek ways to make things better. Sometimes they go someplace else where the chances or circumstances at least appear better. People from all over the world, for example, come to America for a better life. Sometimes people go to a place where the reputation is excellent. For example, lots of people go to the nearby Mayo Clinic for treatment of difficult or complex medical issues.

Even though Jesus is in a “foreign land”, apparently His reputation for being a healer is known there too. A local woman comes to Jesus because her daughter is possessed by demons. She is seeking healing. Jesus gives her a version of “I’m on vacation”. It is also indicative of His focus on the lost sheep of Israel. The situation reminds me of parents with sick children going to the doctor without an appointment, insistent on their child being seen anyway. If the situation is bad enough, they will sit there and wait for an “opening”. In essence, they are saying they will sit there until the child is seen by the doctor.

Jesus tries to dismiss her. The woman ignores the “dog” slight and says, ‘But, yes, Jesus even we may have a little of you. Even us dogs might catch a crumb or two that happens to slip off the table. Yes, Jesus, maybe we can have a little healing too”. She demonstrates that, yes, she will sit there all day, just waiting for a crumb or two to fall. Jesus is impressed – maybe with her faith, maybe with her persistence – but definitely with her love for her daughter.

Lord, in this woman I see unwavering love. In Jesus’ response, I see love given to love. May I too have unwavering love as my guide, following Jesus and His Spirit as I seek to be light and love in the world. 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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Love First

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse Eight: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”.

Each day and each encounter provides us with an opportunity to draw close to God, to worship God. Psalm 138 is a Psalm of praise from King David. It praises God for His love and faithfulness. It encourages us to “sing of the ways of the Lord”. It speaks of God preserving our lives when we walk in the midst of trouble. The Psalm is a powerful reminder of God’s love for us, His dear children.

These few days at Annual Conference have been filled with worship. Sometimes the songs and worship have been slow and reflective. Sometimes the songs have been upbeat and energetic. Sometimes the music has been loud and passionate. Our worship has also included much besides music. We have shared scripture and been blessed by the proclamation of the Word by several gifted pastors. Through each of the messages and the conference itself, the idea of “love first” has been the focus. To me, this is what our worship should do. In all of our styles and in all if the components of worship, our worship should first express our love of God.

Verse eight today reads, “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”. When we offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God’s love, then we experience a love that lasts forever. When we surrender our lives to God, we begin to live into and to live out an everlasting love. In doing so, we discover the first half of our verse: our purpose. We are all created to love as Jesus first loved us: fully and completely. There is no greater love than the love we see modeled by Jesus. May our lives today be living acts of worship, overflowing with the grace and mercy of God, as we seek to love first. May it be so for me and for you. Amen.


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Parent God

Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6

Verse One: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”.

What were your parents like growing up? Were they kind and living and came to all of your activities? Were they hard-working and focused on providing for you? Were they the type that did not say “I love you” with words but certainly did with their actions? Were they overprotective or strict or were they too lenient? And… how did they affect how you parent or how you parented?

Today’s Psalm speaks of the ways that God is our parent. We often say something along the lines of “we’re all God’s children”, but do we really consider what that means? Today’s Psalm does! It begins with, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”. First, as our parent, God knows us inside out. God knows how we are feeling, what we are thinking, what we need and desire, … The psalmist goes on to remind us that God is “familiar with all of my ways” – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Our ways do not sway or change God’s love for us. As a loving parent, God’s love is always there for us. God balances who we are with who we are created to be, ever drawing us to the latter.

Verse four speaks of a loving parent who knows us so well that He knows the words before we even speak them. God really does know us inside out. Verse five reads, “You hem me in…”. It is not that God limits or controls us absolutely, but that God’s protection is ever around us. The Holy Spirit is also present, always leading and guiding us – when we are willing and receptive. God never forces or coerces us. We are as free to make poor decisions as we are to make decisions that please God.

Our passage closes with, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me”. It is hard to fathom just how good of a parent God is. Although we cannot fully understand the extent of God’s love, we can appreciate it. To God almighty, creator of the universe, parent to us all: thank you.


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Lavished

Reading: 1 John 3: 1-3

Verse One: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God”.

Identity is an important thing. At times we are very sure of who we are. We feel confident and we know our purpose in life. So often, for many people, this is wrapped up in earthly things like our job or our position on the team or in the money we have or in the possessions we own. When this is how we define ourselves, then the trials of life rock our world.

Today’s passage opens with a reminder of who we truly are. John writes, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God”. This sums up the core of our true identity. It is because of God’s great love. This is where it starts. It is a rich and lavish love that God wants to pour down on every single person. Not all accept His love. But for those that do, we are called “children of God”. There is a huge difference between knowing that all people are God’s children and actually living as one. When we live as a child of God, we know our true identity.

When we identify as a child of God, life takes on an eternal perspective. Yes, this life will still have its trials and hurts and sufferings, but they are temporary. In addition, as a child we do not walk alone through these valleys either. Our Father walks with us and will even carry us at times. Our Father gives us strength to face any challenge because we do not face it alone and we can draw on His limitless strength. How great is the love indeed!

No matter what life has brought us or will bring us, we can trust in the love that God has for each of us, His dearly loved children. Thanks be to God for His great love!


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Hope, Promise, Opportunity

Reading: Genesis 9: 8-17

Verse Nine: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature”.

The flood was a catastrophic event that has no match. The totality of the loss of life is unparalleled in the history of mankind. It is hard to imagine what living in the aftermath would have been like. A small group of eight people enter the ark with a multitude of animals, the rain falls, the flood waters rose, and soon they were all alone. Noah and family emerge from the ark to a desolate and unpopulated world. It must have been difficult to know they were it.

Our passage today begins with God promising to never do such a thing again. God says to the eight, “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature”. God is maybe seeking to rebuild trust. Maybe it is a pain that God never wants to experience again either. Noah and family do trust into God’s promise and they trust into the future that lies ahead in this new world. From this perspective, all must have seemed new and beautiful. There was no war or violence or anger or hatred. They must have felt a great sense of hope and promise and opportunity.

At times in life we also experience a flood. It may have been when we packed up everything we owned and moved to a place where we did not know anyone or anything. It may have been in the loss of the dearest person in our world, when in the days after we felt as if nothing was the same. Floods can come in many ways. Through these disorienting experiences we must continue to trust into God and His promises. Key for us is to remember that God loves us dearly and desires the best for us. Even in the hard times that life can bring, God is always at work to bring beauty from our ashes, joy with the morning. God’s covenant promise to love us always and no matter what is sometimes all we can lean into.

One day we emerge, like Noah and his family, seeing the world in a whole new way. Once again there is hope and promise and even opportunity. No, things are not the same. But once again we have seen that God is faithful, that God always remains present to us, that God continues to honor His covenant. Each trial of life draws us closer and closer to God, deepening our trust in His love and care, reinforcing the depth of His covenant commitment. Thank you God of the promise, for your love and care for us, your beloved children.