pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Preaching, Teaching, Healing

Reading: Matthew 9: 35-38

Verse 35: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching… preaching… and healing”.

Today’s short passage sums up Jesus’ ministry quite well. In verse 35 we read about the things that occupied most of his time: teaching, preaching, and healing. I believe that these three practices remain the core practices of ministry today. These three practices often work together to shape and form who we are as people of faith.

Teaching can occur in many settings and can cover many topics. In ministry, we most often think of Bible studies and other topical small groups as the main ways that teaching occurs. This tends to be the focus of teaching in our churches. There are other ways to teach faith. In intentional conversations and in the things we regularly do and say we teach about faith. For example, as parents our everyday words and actions are the main methods of passing our faith along to our children. In this time of COVID there has been a great deal of teaching in our churches on how to safely minister while honoring the need to social distance and stay at home. We have begun to teach about safely gathering again. More recently there has been an increase in teaching on racism and prejudice in America. These teachings have centered on understanding racism and on recognizing how we are all implicit in and impacted by this evil. Social justice has always been a cornerstone of Christianity.

Preaching is something we think just happens on Sunday morning or maybe on a Wednesday or Saturday night. These are the primary delivery times but it also occurs at various times in a variety of settings. These can range from a one-on-one conversation to retreats and camps and even to impromptu gatherings in a bar or the local coffee shop. In almost all cases, preaching centers on sharing, understanding, and applying faith to our daily lives.

Healing was the third aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Today we do not see as many physical healings as we read about in the New Testament. But the Holy Spirit is very active, working in and through Christians all over the world. Healing included restoration to wholeness, redemption from sins and bondage, being drawn into a community of faith, and finding new life in Jesus Christ.

In our passage we read that Jesus preached, taught, and healed for one reason: compassion. He saw those who were in need – the “the harassed and helpless” – and he ministered to them. Our very understanding of who is harassed and helpless has certainly grown over these last few months. In verse 37 Jesus notes, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”. May we all be workers for Jesus Christ today!

Prayer: Leading God, day by day help me to use all three of these practices to minister to my congregation and to my community. Empower me by the Holy Spirit to bring fullness and wholeness of life to those in need. Amen.


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Simple Invitation

Reading: John 9: 24-41

Verse 33: “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing”.

As we pick up the story half way through today, the conversation becomes much more heated and lively. The religious leaders ask the man to explain what happened a second time and he responds by asking them, “Do you want to become his disciples, too”? This could not be further from the truth. The religious react strongly in a negative way, hurling insults at him. This reveals the true nature of their questions and also the true state of their hearts. They desperately want to discredit Jesus and to maintain their place of religious superiority. The man’s heart is also revealed. He asks a sincere question as his heart is now becoming the heart of a disciple.

In spite of the religious leaders’ harsh and angry words, the man stands his ground. They claim not to know where Jesus comes from. He is happy to tell them. He first reminds them that God does not listen to sinners but does listen to those who do his will. His parting words also ring with truth: “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing”. At this point he is thrown out of the temple. The light of Jesus Christ shining into their darkness is more than they could take. If we are as brave sharing our faith as this man was, we too will encounter rejection and maybe abuse at times.

Hearing of all that had happened Jesus finds the man. He inquires if the man believes. The man is searching. At this crucial moment Jesus reveals that he is the Son of Man. In pure emotion and faith, the man worships Jesus. This is a scene that has continued to play out over and over as the risen Christ meets people as they seek him. His first calling of the disciples came with the simple invitation, “Come and see” (John 1). That continues to be the simple invitation: come and see who Jesus is, allow him to change your life. As modern day disciples, may we continue to cast the light and to spread the love of Jesus, inviting others to come and see, to meet Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Today, God, today use me as you will. Reveal your will as I seek to live as your hands, feet, and voice. Fill me with your light and love, allow it to overflow. Amen.


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On the Fringes

Reading: John 4: 27-42

Verse 35: “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for the harvest”.

When was the last time you met someone like the woman at the well? When was the last time you had a conversation with someone who was not like you, who was outside of your normal circles of friends and acquaintances, who was not among the popular and accepted folks in the community? Every community has them. It may be only one or two who live outside the norms of society. It may be thousands who live on the fringes in your community.

In verses 5-26 of John 4, Jesus made the choice to engage one of these people. He stepped over many barriers to draw in this woman at the well, to help her find the living water that only he can give. The disciples return just as the conversation between Jesus and the woman ends. They have been in town getting food. In response to their offer of physical food, Jesus speaks instead of the spiritual food he has to offer.

Some of the people we might meet on the fringes are in need of physical food. Some on the fringes are in need of a place to belong, to feel loved. Some are in need of support and guidance and direction in life. Some on the fringes have other basic needs – heating fuel, gas to get to work, clothes for the kids. Before we can begin to have the spiritual conversations with someone on the fringes we must cross a barrier or three and we must help them cross barriers as well to find a place of trust and security and honesty. Jesus models this well in the story we read in John 4.

Jesus also acknowledges that we all play a role. In verse 37 he says, “One sows and another reaps”. We may be like Jesus was with the woman at the well – beginning the conversation and following it through to a profession of faith. But most of the time we are just one step in the process of someone becoming a follower of Jesus.

In our passage today, Jesus encourages the disciples and us to be a step in the process. In verse 35 Jesus tells us, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for the harvest”. These words are just as true today as the day he spoke them. Some people are curious. Some are hurting. Some are angry. Some are alone. Some are grieving. Many are on the fringes and want to come into community. Open your eyes and look. The fields are ripe. Go forth to be the love of Jesus to one in need of connection.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see those in need. Help me to live well – to foster a deep love for the marginalized and others with needs. Open my eyes and my heart, O God. Amen.


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Drawing In

Reading: John 4: 5-26

Verse 9: “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”?

The conversation in today’s passage is refreshing. Two people who do not previously know each other have an open and honest conversation. Wouldn’t it be nice if people who know each other could have at least this open and honest of a conversation? Let’s see how that may be possible.

The conversation we read in John 4 is honest and allows space for the other to speak and be heard. The woman is coming to the well alone in the sixth hour, which would be noon for us. All the other women came as a group in the early morning, in the cool of the day. As they came, drew water, and returned to the village they would have talked and caught up with one another. The woman at the well is alone and is isolated in her own community. After Jesus asks her for a drink, she replies, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”? Jesus is attempting to cross a few barriers here in order to enter into a conversation. She points out both the Jew-Samaritan and the male-female barriers. He continues the conversation, crossing the barrier of isolation. Jesus chooses to engage someone that most others ignore or avoid. In spite of the initial barriers that she tries to put up, Jesus continues to try and connect with her. Jesus offers her the “living water” and she reminds him that Jacob drank from this well and gave it to the Samaritans. The Samaritan connection to Jacob is their claim to equality with the Jews. She is testing Jesus – will he bite and allow the conversation to be derailed? No, he continues to offer her the water that leads to eternal life. You see, the gift of eternal life is much more important than any earthly defined barrier or difference. How can we model this belief in our efforts to share Jesus with others?

In verses sixteen through eighteen Jesus identifies the thing that keeps her on the fringes of society, outside of community. He does name it but there is no judgment, no taking of moral high ground. She falls back into the Jew-Samaritan barrier in verse twenty, but again Jesus persists, opening her eyes to see how God is working to break down worship and religious barriers, revealing a time when all believers will worship together in spirit and truth. Jesus is again leaning into the eternal. The woman at the well is beginning to sense what Jesus offers, connecting to the day when the Messiah will come. The conversation ends for now with Jesus claiming, “I am he”. Drawn in, the woman will soon draw others in.

This is the pattern of discipleship – sharing faith in Jesus with one person at a time. May we practice this model today.

Prayer: Father God, lead me past any barriers my earthly eyes may see at first. Open my heart and mind to the guiding of your Holy Spirit as I seek to share Jesus with others today. Amen.


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Each a Beloved Child

Reading: Luke 16: 19-31

Verse 29: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them”.

In our passage today Lazarus is a person in need. He is a person in need of food and medical care. These are his immediate physical needs. If we are willing to go to certain places and to engage certain folks, we can find people like Lazarus – people with basic needs. Food, shelter, clothing, medical care – people in our land of plenty lack many of these basics. The rich man lived in luxury. In ths life, he never once thought about Lazarus and his needs.

Lazarus also had emotional needs. To be ignored, to be passed by every day, creates a sense of isolation. To know others are avoiding you, averting their eyes to not even make eye contact, negatively impacts one’s self-image. It is hurtful and harmful to have one’s need for companionship, compassion, and conversation to go unmet. Lazarus was a man in need of relationship. We all need to belong.

For many years I was like the rich man. I tried to avoid and ignore those struggling with poverty and homelessness. I’d move to try and walk on the other side of the street. I’d look the other way if I couldn’t avoid the person. I allowed a gap to exist between myself and those who were not like me. In terms of sharing my faith, I thought, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them”. They can read the Bible. They can come to church if they want to know about Jesus. How wrong I was.

Then one day I met Dee and Joel. Soon I met Pat and Rob and Georgia and… I got to know a few who were like Lazarus – people who were like me in so many ways. They all had a story to tell. They all had moms and dads and many had children. We had so much in common. Most of all, I learned that they too were each a beloved child of God. We became friends. It was from this place that not only physical and emotional needs could be addressed, but spiritual needs as well. Once we were friends, Moses and the prophets and Jesus could become part of the conversation.

Those living without Jesus don’t have to end up like the rich man. They can, but they don’t have to. May we each be willing to step across those barriers, real and imagined, to engage our fellow children of God, sharing our hope and Jesus’ love with them.

Prayer: God, thank you for continuing to work on me. Thank you for opening my eyes and my heart to those is need. Continue to lead and guide me to be Jesus’ hands and feet, to speak your word, to meet needs as I can, to be a light shining in the world. Amen.


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Live in Love

Reading: 1st John 4: 13-21

Verse Sixteen: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in Him”.

In today’s passage there are a lot of references to “in”. The passage begins with “live in Him” and “He in us”, illustrating the connection we have between us and God. This connection is made through the presence of the Holy Spirit in us. Once we acknowledge Jesus as Savior, then this “in” relationship is established, allowing us to “know and rely on the love God has for us”.

This relationship is based upon love and the connection that being in love brings. In verse sixteen we read, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in Him”. It does not say ‘dabbles in love’ or ‘occasionally strays’ into love. Living in love connects us to God. The more time and energy we invest in love, the more that “love is made complete”. As we approach this completion, we also gain confidence in our eternity. John writes, “perfect love drives out fear”. Our love of God and God’s love in us assures us of our everlasting relationship with God.

To live in love requires a constant attention. This relationship is built and grows only through attention. Like all relationships, it will wither and fade if we neglect it. We must take the time to invest in our relationship with God. Verse nineteen does say, “we love because He first loved us”. It is also true that God will continue to love us no matter what because “God is love”. But the development of a relationship and the reciprocation of love requires our intent and our commitment. It is not enough to say that God first loved us. We must also return that love. In doing so we will be filled with love and as we begin to live in love, that love will naturally flow out to our brothers and sisters as well.

We build our love for God by spending time with God. In can be through time in prayer and reading and studying His Word in the quiet of the morning or in the stillness of the night. It can be time spent in joyful worship at church or in peaceful and still reflection beside flowing waters or in the beauty of the forest path. It can be in a conversation with God during the commute to school or work or in the few moments we steal away waiting in line at the store or in traffic. There are many ways to connect to God to build our love. May we each find many today.


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Distinct

Reading: Exodus 33: 12-23

Verse 13: Teach me your ways so I may know you.

Moses represents God’s connection to the people as the spokesperson for both God and the people.  Although they are the “chosen people”, what Moses provides is essential to the relationship.  At this point, the people do not feel a connection to God that allows them to communicate directly with God.  This is done by Moses.  The way we communicate with God through our prayers would seem an impossibility to the Israelites.

The Lord God knows Moses by name.  It is a personal relationship.  Moses has come to know God well enough to be able to negotiate with God, but he wants more.  Moses says to God, “Teach me your ways so I may know you”.  He is saying, in essence, that he wants to know God even more.  God’s response is the promise of His presence with Moses and the people Israel.

Moses’ request should be the request that always lies at the center of our personal relationship with God.  “Teach me your ways” should be our daily goal and our constant aim.  Central to this should be our own daily communication with God.  Each day we should often spend time with God, giving our thanks and praise, seeking His activity in our lives.  A part of the conversation must be listening as well – not just to the Holy Spirit but also for God’s voice in our times of prayer.  We must also spend time daily in His Word – reading, meditating, seeking discernment and direction, growing in our knowledge of His ways.  Lastly, we must live out our faith.  As we interact with others, as we meet the stranger, as we work, as we play – in all things God must shine through.  In all we are and do, we too should hear, “I am pleased with you and I know you by name”.  Just like Moses, we too should have an intimate personal relationship with God.

This relationship made Moses and the Israelites distinct from the rest of the world.  They were set apart.  What makes us as Christians distinctive and set apart for God?  How does our daily living bring God the glory as it draws others closer to Jesus Christ?


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Trust

Reading: Genesis 22: 1-7

Verse Two: Then God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac… sacrifice him there”.

Abraham had a tremendous amount of respect for God.  They had a very good relationship.  Abraham has seen promises of God come true over and over.  The capstone of these has been the birth of his son, the heir he finally had, at age 100.  Abraham raised the young boy amidst God’s care and protection.  Life is truly blessed for Abraham.

Then God says to him, “Take your son, your only son Isaac… sacrifice him there”.  The words must have hit him like a ton of bricks.  There is no questioning, no reply, no ‘but…’.  The text simply tells us that early the next morning Abraham gathered wood and fire and a knife and headed out with Isaac and two servants.  Abraham and Isaac leave the servants and donkey behind and continue the journey themselves.  As they walk along, Isaac asks, “Where is the lamb?”. Young Isaac senses something is missing: wood, fire, knife.  Lamb?  It is another hard conversation.

Isaac asks the obvious question.  That question must have rolled around over and over in Abraham’s mind.  His response is simple: God will provide.  Isaac must have had tremendous respect for God too.  They turn and continue up the mountain.  I cannot imagine the things on Abraham’s mind.  Or was nothing on his mind?  Did he fully expect God to provide a lamb?  Or did he accept the fact that God was asking for the first fruits, the son that God had miraculously provided?

At times God has hard conversations with us too.  At times, God asks us to do something that seems extraordinary.  At times, He says, “Trust me” and expects us to walk forward in faith.  May we, like Abraham, trust and obey God.


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Intimately Connected

Reading: Psalm 86: 1-10 and 16-17

Verse One: Hear me, O Lord, and answer me.
This Psalm is personal.  It is built upon a relationship that has grown and developed over years.  It is not a shallow relationship or a ‘foxhole prayer’ – a prayer of desperation thrown up by one who regularly lives outside a relationship with God.  David is intimate with God.  Verses two through four bear witness to this.  He is devoted to God, calls out all day long, and lifts his soul to God.  Verse one reads, “Hear me, O Lord, and answer me”.  David is confident in his right to seek God.  Not only that, one can sense the solid belief that God will answer.  We too can have such a relationship with God.  We grow and develop our relationship with God through worship, daily time in the Bible, and by regular conversations with God.

As the Psalm unfolds, we see that David’s intimate connection to God is built upon God’s faithfulness and love.  David describes God as forgiving, good, and abundant in love.  He acknowledges God’s greatness and the miraculous deeds that God has done in caring for His servant David.  David can look back and see how God was active and present over the course of his life.  It reminds him of the covenant promise that God extends to all who trust in the Lord.

We too can choose to walk each day intimately connected to God.  When this is our daily choice, we too will be able to look back and see God’s faithfulness and love at work in our lives.  Each day may we choose to walk intimately with God, so that we too can pray, “Turn to me and have mercy on me, grant your strength to your servant”.


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Extend His Welcome

Reading: John 4: 5-30 & 39-42

Verse 14: Whoever drinks this water I give him will never thirst.

In today’s story, Jesus reaches out to a woman that no other Jew would reach out to.  He speaks to a Samaritan woman who is coming to draw water from Jacob’s well.  Water is essential to life.  Women came to the well each day to draw water, to socialize a bit, to care for their families.  Jesus probably senses there is a reason she comes to the well alone, in the heat of the day.  Perhaps her life and her choices have made her into a person that is not often spoken to by her own people as well.

Even though this is the longest recorded conversation with Jesus in the Bible, He is not out for some polite conversation. For Jesus, there is a point, there is a reason to speak to this outsider.  Jesus sees a lost and broken soul in need of God’s love and grace.  In Romans 5:8, we recall that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”.  In today’s passage, Jesus is living this idea out.  He is allowing the prejudice to die as He reaches out to the Samaritans.  In their conversation, Jesus offers her the ‘living water’ and she shows interest.  There is a spiritual hunger in this woman.  Jesus draws her further in by speaking truth about her life, but He does not allow this to be a barrier either.  There is no judgment, just openness and truth.  He acknowledges who she is and offers her love and grace anyway.  This too is our story with God.  No matter the road we’ve gone down and whatever choices we have made, Jesus’ message to us is the same: come, sit, talk with me, drink of this living water.

The story and invitation does not end here.  Our lesson is not over.  Yes, we see in Jesus’ example the call to reach out to those who are lost, to those who are outsiders.  After all, we are ‘there’ every once in a while ourselves.  And, yes, we too have felt the grace and love of Jesus making us new again.  But let us not look past the woman’s response.  She found healing and went and told others.  She brought others to Jesus so that they too could experience the living water.  She set aside any fears and doubts about being an outsider in her own village and invited all to come and know Jesus.  This too is our call.  May we each set aside any barriers and boldly share our Jesus, the source of living water, with all we cross paths with today.  May we each extend Jesus’ welcome to all.