pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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All

Reading: Romans 10: 8b-13

Verse 12: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him”.

Verse 12 is a pretty amazing statement when one considers who Saul was. As Saul, Paul was raised as an expert in the Law. He was a Pharisee – a person who dedicated his life to carefully following all of the Law. Saul followed the Laws that called for a strict separation between Jew and Gentile. The Jews were the chosen people of God, a group set apart. Gentiles were all non-Jews. This was a large group of people. As the early church began, Saul’s zeal turned upon the Christians, who were Gentiles according to Saul’s world view. Then Saul met Jesus. His heart was changed and his name was too. Paul is the Gentile version of Saul.

All of us are like Saul to some degree. We are raised with and we can learn stereotypes and prejudices or at least thoughts about certain groups, types, or classes of people. For Saul the dividing line was Jew-Gentile. It varies for each of us, but the list is long when put all together: men-women, black-white, American-immigrant, old-young, Republican-Democrat, white-Native American, jock-nerd, Christian-nonbeliever, white collar-blue collar, rural-urban, straight-homosexual, educated-uneducated, progressive-liberal… The list goes on. And on. But no matter who is on our lists, Paul’s truth remains truth because it is God’s truth: “For there is no difference between ____ and ____ – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him”. God created us all and loves us all as His dear children. All does mean all. Anyone we could name. Anyone we could put on the list. All is a pretty inclusive word. God’s love is inclusive.

We each live within God’s extraordinary love. In the Jews’ world at the time of Paul’s writing, the us-them mentality prevented them from sharing God’s love. This same mentality can have the same effect on us today. It should not be so. We read why in verse 13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. Everyone. That’s a big word too. May our love for all people, for everyone, be that big too.

Prayer: Lord of love, when I begin to see things that divide or separate, tear them down. When I begin to see differences, wipe them from my mind and heart. Create in me a pure heart, O God, a heart of love for you and those you love – all people. Amen.


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Signs

Reading: John 2:11

Verse 11: “This, the first of His miraculous signs, revealed His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him”.

At the wedding in Cana, Jesus offers the first sign. The miracle of changing ordinary water into extraordinary wine is an amazing event. Yet, the the book of John, he chooses the word “sign”, not miracle. John’s gospel focuses on revealing the divinity of Christ, using several signs to point people to Jesus as the Son of God, as the Messiah, as the light of the world.

There are only seven signs or miracles in John’s gospel. Each is chosen from the more prolific ministry of Jesus because of the way they point to or reveal Jesus as the Son, the light… The signs demonstrate Jesus’ power over substances and nature, His power over illness, His power over hunger and need, and, lastly, His power over death. With each sign there is a growing awareness of Jesus’ true identity. There is also a growing fear of Him that will lead to His death and resurrection.

Today’s passage is the first sign in John’s gospel that begins to reveal who Jesus is. If we were to reflect upon our lives, we too have a first sign – that moment when we first began to see Jesus as our Lord and Savior. It was that first tug at the heart. Maybe it happened in Sunday school or at youth group. Maybe it happened at church one morning or at VBS. Maybe it was at church camp or maybe it was one day when you were alone with your Bible. When it happened for them, “His disciples put their faith in Him”. That first sign in our lives started us down that road as well. Each ensuing sign that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the light, our hope and promise, builds up our faith and our relationship with our Lord and Savior. May we continue to see the signs, continuing to grow in our faith, always awed by the ways that God is revealed to us and through us.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for that first inkling of who you are. Thank you for every sign and every gentle nudge and whisper. Continue to reveal yourself to me, drawing me ever closer to you. Amen.


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Extraordinary

Reading: John 2: 1-11

Verse 7: “Fill the jars with water”.

At His mother’s request, Jesus takes action. The six empty jars – the ones used for religious rituals – are standing nearby. Jesus tells the servants, “Fill the jars with water”. I do not sense any hesitation on their part. In fact, our Bibles tell us that “they filled them to the brim”. They do not just put some water in the jars. There is an expectation of something here. Maybe they could sense it in Mary and Jesus’ conversation.

The water that was placed in the jars was just ordinary water. It was probably drawn from the local well – from the well that all the people and animals living in and around Cana drink from every day. But once inside the jars the water becomes something extraordinary. Not just wine, but really good wine. The master of the wedding banquet notes, “you have saved the best until last”.

On one level, in the here and now, this story tells us to look for and to expect God’s abundance in extraordinary ways. The jars are filled to the brim. This is how God wants to fill us. God does not want us to experience some of His love, grace, mercy,… He wants to fill us so full that it even overflows! What is inside the jars is extraordinary because of Jesus. This too is God’s desire for all who follow Christ. When Jesus is in us, we are ‘in the world but not of the world’. We belong to heaven. In this world, we stand out and we are called to be a glorious witness to God and His coming kingdom.

This is the second level of our extraordinary abundance. The passage points to the eternal. Like the wine at the banquet, our best is yet to come. We begin to experience what is to come in our earthly life. God is ever at work in us, sanctifying us – making us more and more like Jesus, living more and more in His image. Through this process we grow in our faith and life is better. Yet this life is just a small glimpse of heaven – not even a little peek. It is just the beginning of a taste. We await a far more exceeding time in glory. This too will be extraordinary!

Prayer: God, thank you for walking with me through this life. In the blessings and in the trials, I know you are there. You have so much more for me than I can even imagine. Help me to trust, to step where you lead, allowing me to spread your love and to help build the kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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In Peace

Reading: Luke 2: 22-40

Verses 29-30: “You now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation”.

In our passage from Luke, Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple to do all that the Law prescribes.  He is presented, named, circumcised, consecrated, and redeemed.  As devout Jews, Mary and Joseph obediently do as they should.  After they return to Nazareth, we assume they continue follow all of the Law.

In the midst of the ordinary, Mary and Joseph encounter the extraordinary.  In the middle of doing what all good parents of little Jewish baby boys do, something happens that did not happen to any of the other babies.  Long before this day, Simeon and Anna had begun their vigil.  Both were intimately connected to the Holy Spirit and both were very devout and righteous people.

Simeon was promised by God through the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Christ.  Simeon clings to this hope year after year.  Then one day he is “moved by the Spirit” and he goes to the temple.  Simeon knows right away that Jesus is the one.  He speaks words about Jesus that amaze Mary and Joseph.  Anna spent all of her time in the temple courts, day and night, praying and fasting.  She too is drawn to Jesus.  She too knows that He is the one.  Anna also tells Mary and Joseph about Jesus and that He will be the “redemption of Jerusalem”.  Simeon utters these words that I am sure Ana felt as well: “You now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation”.  They have seen the One and they depart in peace.

All people have a need for Jesus in their lives.  Some know it yet deny it.  Some search but can’t quite come to find Jesus.  Others find Jesus and become like Simeon and Anna: filled with the Holy Spirit, content in finally knowing Jesus as their Lord and Savior, able to rest into His peace.  Once we’ve found Jesus, we too echo Simeon’s words.  We come to know Paul’s words too, knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God that we find in Jesus Christ.  For our hope and for our redemption, we say thanks be to God today.  Amen!


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Extraordinary

Reading: Luke 2: 22-40

Verse 22: “Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord”.

Has something surprising happened when you did not expect it?  Can you remember a time when your routine was interrupted by something extraordinary?  When we are faithful, sometimes God shows up in the most unexpected or in the unlikeliest of ways.

On the last Sunday of each month our church has been offering a free meal to the community.  We have had some guests from the community but we’re not getting much response.  Our outreach meal was mostly feeding about 30-40 people from our church.  After six months of meals, I prayed for guidance and direction and was questioning if we should continue the meal.  Then God sent Alma.  She connected the offer of free food with the segment of our community with such a need.  For the December meal we fed over 120 people, most of them a direct result of Alma’s efforts.  God made things happen in an unexpected and surprising way.  Thanks be to God!

The time came for Mary and Joseph to present their child in the temple.  As was according to the Law, they went to the temple and took with them the needed sacrifice.  They were doing what thousands and thousands of devout Jewish parents had always done.  It was a simple trip to and from Jerusalem, maybe do a little shopping while we’re there kind of trip.  But as they are in the temple, God sends not one but two special people to speak about their son.  God suddenly bursts into the ordinary of life.

Our fellowship meal had become a monthly meal where people from our church gathered to eat, fellowship, and spend time together.  Although not really what it was designed for, it was a good thing that was happening.  And then Alma happened.

This is Mary and Joseph’s story too.  Travel, arrive, circumcise, present, offer sacrifice, … and then Simeon happens.  He tells them that Jesus will cause the rising and falling of many.  And then Anna happens.  She tells them that this child will be the redemption of Jerusalem.  God bursts in and Mary and Joseph are amazed.

Where is God going to burst into your life and your world in extraordinary ways?  Are you looking?  Are you praying?  Is the Spirit within you willing?  May the Lord our God do amazing things this day in our lives!


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Extravagant

Reading: John 12: 1-11

Verse 3: She poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair.

Today’s story is one of extravagant love.  Mary is a good friend of Jesus.  Jesus had a special connection to this family from Bethany, to Mary and Martha and Lazarus.  This family appears several times in the Gospels.  In our passage today, Jesus is on His way to celebrate the Passover.  It will be His last stop at Bethany.  Perhaps Mary has a sense of this.  She seems to be aware of much concerning Jesus.  She was the one who sat at Jesus’ feet and she was the one who brought Jesus to tears outside Lazarus’ tomb.

As they are reclining after dinner, Mary shows extravagant care and love for Jesus.  She pours some very expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet.  On the surface, this is perplexing.  Why would someone pour perfume worth a years’ wages on someone’s feet?  These feet will soon be covered in dust and dirt as Jesus makes His way to Jerusalem.  And then she kneels down and dries His feet with her hair.  This is extraordinary.  Jesus gladly accepts her gesture and even defends her for showing such great love.

Mary’s action may seem extreme, but it is just the kind of love the Jesus demonstrates over and over and over.  A son takes his share of his father’s wealth and squanders it away on wild living.  Instead of tossing aside this foolish son, Jesus paints a picture of a father that waits longingly for the son to return and that throws a big party when the prodigal son does come home.  A disciple struggles to forgive another again and Jesus says not to just forgive a few times but to offer forgiveness over and over and over.  One out of a hundred is lost and instead of rejoicing over the 99, Jesus shares the story of the good shepherd searching until he finds the one.  And instead of scolding the one for being lost, he gathers it up in his arms and joyfully carries it home.  Story after story of extreme, radical, extravagant, extraordinary love.  Mary was just following Jesus’ example.  It is how we are called to live out our faith as well.


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Follow Well

Reading: John 9: 24-42

Verse 27b – Do you want to be His disciples, too?

Jesus has done something extraordinary for this man who was born blind.  This man who would have been shunned in the temple or synagogue because of assumed sin in his life or past is touched and healed by Jesus.  He experiences a radical change in his life because of Jesus’ radical love.  He is so moved that he is willing to challenge the religious authorities with an audacious question to their ears: “Do you want to be His disciples, too”?  In response, they hurl insults at him and throw him out.  Even after this negative experience with religion and the synagogue, the man in undeterred in his newfound faith.  In a second encounter with Jesus, he declares his belief and worships Jesus.  It is a second act of radical love by Jesus to seek out and offer welcome to this man who was rejected by the religious leaders.

This story makes me think of the church today, of churches I have been a part of, and of the church I am at today.  I often wrestle with the idea of just how big our circle of welcome really is – just who all would we genuinely welcome.  It makes me think back to Jesus – the One we follow – and how Jesus loved all He met.  He never said, “Come back when you are free from sin”, or “Come back when you are just like us”, or “Come back when you…”.  Jesus met them where they were at, ministered to their needs at that moment, and loved them with all of His being.  This is the One we follow.

People today are touched by Jesus all the time.  They encounter the love of Christ in a radical way and wander into our churches seeking fellowship and belonging and a chance to explore this newfound faith with followers of Jesus Christ.  When they walk through our doors do they all experience genuine welcome and more of the love of Christ?  But what if they are a little rough around the edges or if we know their past or if they are new to this church thing or if…  There should be no “if” to enter, to be truly welcome, to belong in our churches.  There were “ifs” in the synagogue for the blind man and there still are in the church today.  We must be very cognizant of our tendency to limit access, to judge, to stereotype, … and be true followers of Jesus Christ – ones who meet all right where they are at, who minister to them right then and there, and who love on them like they have always been a part of our churches.  Then the love of Christ will grow.  May we follow well the One who loves all.