pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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For All

Reading: Romans 8: 6-8

Verse 8: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

As the second half of our Romans reading opens, we are reminded again of how God is in control. We read, “at just the right time”. Not a moment too soon, not a few days too late. Perhaps it was when humanity needed saving the most. Maybe it was when things lined up just right from God’s perspective. Possibly it was a tipping point that none of us can see from this side of the veil. But at just the right time, “Christ died for the ungodly”. That is me and that is you and that it all people everywhere. Christ died for all.

The act of sacrificial death born out on the cross begs the question: Why? Paul answers the question in verse eight: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Why? Because God loved you and me and all of humanity so much that he was willing to send his son to die a painful death. Why? Because the price had to be paid for the sins of the world – mine, yours, all of ours. Why? Because resurrection can happen only after death. It is quite the demonstration of love.

If Christ was willing to die for us while we were still sinners, what should our response be to those we encounter that need healing or redemption or restoration or new life? Should we be willing to go as far as Jesus went to minister to those he met? If not death, then how far should we be willing to go to end injustice in all forms, to break bonds and addictions, to cross unspoken barriers, to offer forgiveness and grace? Should we even have a line?

When Jesus encountered someone in need, he did not have them fill out a questionnaire to determine if they qualified or fit certain parameters. He did not evaluate them to see if they were worth his time and energies. No, Jesus came for all and he loved all. We see this reflected in his death – he died for all. And before his final departure, Jesus instructed his followers to go and do likewise. Today, may we seek to model that same love – no conditions, no qualifications, no strings attached. May we simply love and serve all we meet today.

Prayer: Loving God, open my heart to your love, that in receiving I may give. Bind my will to your will and my ways to your ways. Empower me to love and serve others well today. Amen.


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In His Footsteps

Reading: 1st Peter 2: 19-25

Verse 25: “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”.

Today our passage contains a reference to sheep and/or shepherds. This metaphor carries us through this week. Sheep were plentiful in Palestine. The landscape and climate were not well-suited to cattle; sheep were the primary source of both meat and wool. Sheep are funny critters. In that way, they are a lot like us. But the commonalities do not end there. Although generally good followers, at times sheep will wander. Although exclusively loyal to the voice of their shepherd, at times they do not understand or remember the words spoken. Although docile and timid in general, on occasion they become playful or rambunctious – depending on your perspective. Although not known as trouble makers, once in a while sheep will get into a spot or predicament that does require some maneuvering to get back out of. Some suffering may be required.

In 1st Peter 2 today we read about times of suffering for our faith. Peter reminds us, “to this you were called”. Peter is writing within the context of submitting to masters. He includes kings, governors, and slave owners in the list of masters. We would have different titles today, but the principles remain the same. We are still called to respect and submit to authority. In our lives Jesus has the ultimate authority. That is one of Peter’s points. In our day and age, being obedient to Christ can bring some suffering our way. In our land that usually looks like a little ridicule, maybe some ostracizing, and possibly a little self-denial. Once in a while our faith may lead us to take a stand or to enter into a situation that brings some adversity or a bit of discomfort. These are not situations that we step into lightly – especially the second or third or… times. They come with a cost. Yet this is precisely what Peter is calling us to when he writes, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps”. Whether it was injustice or oppression or false religion or unethical behavior, Jesus stepped in and confronted it head on. And there was always a cost. None of us have to look far to find an ill or a difficult situation that needs addressed. We are called to follow in the footsteps of our Shepherd. Instead of sheep simply going astray, may we boldly and courageously follow in Jesus’ footsteps. May we each shine light into the darkness, building the kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: Dear God, give me courage both to see and to act. Lead me into the darkness, that your light and love may be known. Gird me up, making me willing to pay the cost for you and for the building of your kingdom here in this place. Go with me, O God. Amen.


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Spend Yourselves

Reading: Isaiah 58: 6-12

Verse 8: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”.

In today’s passage, God begins to help the Israelites and us to understand what kind of fast is pleasing to the Lord. It is not the type of fast that matters. What matters is how the fast affects the condition of the heart. The fast God chooses is one that draws the participant closer to God. This closeness leads to loosening the chains of injustice, to breaking the yokes of oppression, to feeding the hungry, to sheltering the wanderer, to clothing the naked. A heart aligned with God’s heart also deters us from “turning away from your own flesh and blood”. A heart attuned to God is a heart attuned to the needs of our neighbor and of the world.

Great things happen when this is how we love God. In verse eight we read, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”. Our faith will become a light that shines out into the world, lighting the path to Jesus. The light will shine into the darkness, revealing sin and injustice and oppression and need. Not only will our own hearts be healed, but God’s healing power will move out into the world through us. Isaiah proclaims that our “righteousness will go before you and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard”. This makes it sound like we can do about anything in the name of the Lord. In fact, this is what Jesus also promises in John 14:12.

Again, speaking to the Israelites and to us, God promises to hear the faithful when they call and to answer when they cry out. When his people pray, God draws near. The passage closes with the same call – to “spend yourselves” on those in need of food, shelter, justice, peace… It is in caring for and loving one another that redemption and renewal occur. When we do so, God will strengthen our foundation and will repair our brokenness. Isaiah is casting a vision for a future filled with love and mercy and compassion. God invites us to be a part of that reality. May it be so as we work to build God’s kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: Loving God, as I read these words of Isaiah the life and teachings of Jesus jump out of the words. His love and obedience led to a ministry of healing and hope and restoration. Lead me to give my all, spending myself, as I seek to walk in his footsteps today. Amen.


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Called to Respond

Reading: Matthew 2: 13-23

Verse 13: “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt”.

Jesus is born in a humble setting and receives some humble visitors – the shepherds who had been visited by the angel. Some time passes and the Magi arrive. They are well-educated men from the east, coming to worship the newborn. Along their journey Herod becomes aware of the new ruler. Power and authority have entered the story. Herod pretends to want to worship the one born in Bethlehem.

The Magi are warned in a dream and avoid Herod on their return trip. Our passage today begins with Joseph having another dream. The angel tells him, “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt”. God is acting to get Joseph and family out ahead of the coming storm. Right then, during the night, Joseph wakes his family and they flee to Egypt. In a fury over being tricked by the Magi, Herod has all the boys two and under living in and around Bethlehem killed. He does not want this newborn king to disrupt his reign. In the aftermath, there is the “weeping and mourning” of mothers refusing to be comforted.

After Herod dies the family slips back into Israel, settling in small and out of the way Nazareth. Joseph still fears what the new ruler, Herod’s son, might do. Archelaus is part of the same institution that Herod was part of. The same tendency to look out for oneself is probably still quite strong. Sadly, this remains true of many institutions and of the people of power within these institutions. We see it alive and well in businesses, in government, and often in churches. People with power continue to exert their will because they believe their way is the right way or the only way. Those hurt, like the mothers weeping in Ramah, are not of their concern. Greed and pride and arrogance drive these types of decisions in business and government. In churches, to these we add confused religious certainty to the mix. Toxic environments are created for all but the holders of power. They were already there.

In the story of Jesus’ life, the escape to Egypt and the accompanying slaughter of innocents is one of the sadder and violent chapters. Jesus will go on to challenge some in power – particularly those in the religious institution – showing that power is not always right. This too is our call. We are called to respond to the injustices and wrongs that we see, shining God’s light and love into the darkness. In the light, injustices and wrongs and abuses of power will be revealed for what they are. May it ever be so as we work our way through building God’s kingdom here on earth!

Prayer: God of light, shine into the dark and broken parts of my life and my world. Lead me to stand for you and for what is right, regardless of the price. Strengthen me for the road ahead. Amen.


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Ever Alive

Reading: Luke 20: 27-38

Verse 38: “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive”.

In today’s text the Sadducees pose a question to Jesus. Their question is really getting at what Jesus thinks about the resurrection – not about whose wife the woman will be. If there is a resurrection is a point of contention between this group and the Pharisees. In his response to their question Jesus says that in the resurrection we will be like angels, not dying again. The passage today closes with this truth: “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive”. All who believe in Jesus Christ will live forever. Jesus does not mean that our physical bodies will live forever. Our spirit, the true essence of who and what we are, will live forever with him.

Knowing this truth impacts both this life and the life to come. It removes much fear and anxiety from both. To the believer it offers comfort in a time of loss. It offers reassurance about our earthly relationships that matter the most to us. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus proves what he says. Death no longer has power over us. Because of this, we also are called to live these earthly lives differently.

Without fear of our eternity, we can live more fully in the present. We find a peace in the trials because we know that God controls the here and now too. We find strength in the battles because we walk with the Holy Spirit in the here and now. We find comfort in the suffering, knowing that God carries us when we need it most. We find courage in the times we are called to face injustice and to walk with the lost and the broken because we know that Jesus stands right there with us and the he intercedes for us before the throne. The God of the living and the dead loves all of his children. Because God is good and loving and kind, we are ever alive. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord of life, thank you for both showing and making the way. In this earthly life you revealed what a life lived fully trusting in God’s love looks like. In defeating the cross you made a way for us to the sins of this world. And in defeating the grave you gave us resurrection power and hope. May I live for you in this world so that one day I can live with you in your heavenly kingdom. Amen.


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Good Fruit

Reading: Isaiah 5: 3-7

Verse 4: “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”?

Today we see the outcome of all the love and care that was poured into the vineyard. The yielding of bad fruit draws a passionate response from the gardener. The gardener wistfully says, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”? When one considers all of God’s love and care and patience and guidance poured into Israel, one can begin to understand God’s pain and heartache and even a little anger. All parents experience this process, but usually on a much smaller scale. We raise our children as best we can and they still make poor decisions and bad choices now and then in spite of our best efforts.

God’s response to the vineyard Israel is to tear down the hedge and wall and to allow thorns to infest the ground. God even withholds the rain. God is stepping back from the relationship. God is not abandoning Israel, but is allowing them to experience the consequences of their decisions and choices. The injustice and bloodshed will not have good outcomes; the unanswered cries of distress will go on. All of this pains God deeply. Stepping back is a loving and merciful response. It is the response of a God who loves the people deeply.

I imagine that as God looks down on the world today, there is much that is painful to see. I imagine that God frequently asks the same “what more can I do” question. And then God sees the good fruit, the kind and loving followers of Jesus, working to bring light and love out into the world. God sees believers seeking to love God and to love neighbor. Yes, there are images of God sharing God’s love and care and compassion and mercy and justice with a world in need. Won’t you be one of them today?

Prayer: Loving God, lead me to love like Jesus today. Help me to be compassion and mercy and grace lived out. May it be so for me today and every day. Amen.


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You Will Be Blessed

Reading: John 13: 2-7 and 31-35

Verse 5: “He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him”.

The alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, the Lord and Savior of the world gets up from the table and takes off His outer clothing. The Messiah, the King of Kings, the One who is to come wraps a towel around His waist. “He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him”. God’s only Son, the risen and eternal one, the Good Shepherd, our Redeemer humbles Himself and becomes the lowest of all. Jesus tells the disciples that they do not yet understand what He is doing, but that they will understand later.

Jesus goes on to explain that, yes, they rightly call Him ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’. Jesus is both of these things but so much more. In verse 15 He says, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you”. Jesus willingly set aside these titles, all I listed above, and more. He humbled Himself once more, laying aside all status, all selfishness, all pride, to kneel and wash some feet. Jesus models what He expects His disciples and followers to do. In verse 17 Jesus states, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them”. The washing of feet is no longer culturally a symbol of humble servanthood. But there are still many ways that we can be a humble servant to others. There are many tasks that we can willingly take on that demonstrate the love of Christ to others. Jesus names many: clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the lonely and imprisoned, care for the sick, give to those in need, befriend the outcast and marginalized, be present to those walking in the valley of grief, loss, depression, or addiction. We too are called to lay aside our titles, our status, our importance, our stereotypes, our stigmas,… to be in ministry to each other and to the world.

Our passage today concludes with a new command. Jesus commands the disciples and us: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another”. To love as Jesus loved is a pretty extraordinary command. His love was unlimited and unconditional. It was a love that knew no bounds. He concludes today’s passage by giving the impact of loving this way: “by this all will know that you are my disciples”. May we be well known.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, use me today as you will. Give me eyes to see the opportunities and a heart to love into them. May it be so. Amen.


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Ambassadors

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 16-21

Verse 20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us”.

Today many will gather in churches and homes to worship. We will sing, pray, read scripture, hear a message,… An outside observer could probably identify us as Christians. Then we will leave our places of worship and enter the world. When observed there will we still easily be identified as Christians?

Paul encourages us to not see people as the world sees them. He reminds us that once we are “in Christ” we are a new creation. We no longer see as a person of the world but now see as Jesus Christ saw the world. As such, we are called to first reconcile ourselves and then the world to Christ. We confess and repent and seek to live like Jesus. In turn we are called to help others do the same. Paul writes, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us”. As ambassadors we should represent Christ well and should help others to know the One that we know.

In a general sense, folks should see Christ in us. This emerges in how we treat others, in the ways that we live with integrity and honesty and love and compassion and mercy… People should notice that we are different from the world. But being “in Christ” also calls us to go a step further. We should also see and act as Jesus did. That means noticing the one who feels unlovable and then loving them as Jesus does. It means noticing the one that feels trapped in their sin or the guilt and shame and then helping them to be freed. It means seeing the one in need and then meeting their needs as we are able. It means seeing oppression and injustice in our community and addressing it. In living out our faith in real and practical ways we serve as good ambassadors for Jesus Christ. In this process, we also become more and more “the righteousness of God”.

This day and every day, may we not only live as good examples of Christ, but may we also be Christ’s love.

Prayer: Lord, help me to not only see as you saw and to not only love you, but also to see and love my neighbors in both word and deed. Amen.


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Longing

Reading: Luke 13: 31-35

Verse 31: “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you are not willing”.

In our passage today we have a lament from Jesus. In His “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem” statement we can hear the sorrow and anguish in His voice. The city and people that Jesus loves have and will continue to reject Him and His love. We can hear how this hurts Jesus as we read, “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you are not willing”. He has tried and tried and tried. He has loved and loved and loved. To no avail – they are not willing. To such as these the house is left desolate – without hope.

This emotional response to rejection was the one that God has felt for a long time. Ever since the rejection in the Garden, God has been feeling the pain of men and women and groups of people choosing other than God. Even after God came in the flesh so that His children would really see what His love looked and felt like, they still rejected the love that He offered. Not in spite of but for those who rejected Him, Jesus still went to the cross in the supreme demonstration of love. After walking out of the tomb, after defeating the power of sin and death, people still rejected Jesus.

It is not a whole lot different today. Yes, there are millions of Christians in the world. But there are billions who have not heard the good news of Jesus Christ and there are many more who have rejected Jesus’ love. And even for those who are followers, at times we choose the idol of self or power or success or possessions over His love. We choose sin over faith, rejecting Jesus and our relationship with Him over and over. And still He loves. But I can be sure it causes Jesus to lament over and over and over.

On the larger scale, society causes Jesus to lament too. Because we are a part of society, we have some guilt in this too. The prejudices and stereotypes and injustices and abuses of power that go on must cause Jesus to weep. This is not the way of love. The simple fact that people go to bed on the street and are always hungry and lacking clothing and basic care in the land of plenty must crush Jesus’ heart. And still He loves. Yes, how He longs to gather His children together. Yes, how Jesus longs to gather all of the children together.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, how you too long to gather all of your children together to a place of love and care and compassion. May our churches and our homes be just such a place. May it be so. Amen.


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No Compartmentalizing!

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 8: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”.

On Ash Wednesday I encouraged the folks in worship to consider a fast for Lent. We spent time in prayer seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit for discernment concerning what it is that we could choose that would lead us closer to God. Today in our passage Isaiah speaks of the kind of fast that pleases God. As I fasted this past week, I came close to displeasing God with my fast. I became a little grumpy within and was tempted to let it out in my words, but the Holy Spirit squashed that thought and I turned to the Lord and He moved me past my difficulty. Praise God! Yes, it was good the Holy Spirit intervened. But to truly lead to growth and to become closer to God, this experience must change me within. God has brought this struggle to my mind and heart. I must choose to now be more aware of it and must work to not go down that road again next week when I fast again.

In our passage today Isaiah is reminding us first of the ways not to fast. This would apply for all spiritual disciplines that we practice – prayer, worship, Bible study, small groups… It does not please God if we live a life of sin – oppressing others, quarreling, abusing… – and then stop to fast for a time and then return to our sinful ways. Again, the same is true for all of our spiritual disciplines. We cannot compartmentalize our faith. For example, we cannot be a good Christian on Sunday mornings and then live as a pagan the rest of the week.

In verse 4 Isaiah writes, “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. Again, we can insert pray, worship, study… in place of ‘fast’. The results will be the same. Whatever our spiritual practice, it must draw us closer to the heart of God. Starting in verse 6, Isaiah reveals the heart of God to us. It is a heart that cares for and walks alongside the weak and marginalized and oppressed. It is a heart that works to break the chains of injustice and oppression. It is a heart that works to give food and shelter and clothing to those in need. I must honestly ask myself, which of these did I work for this week? We must ask ourselves this because God desires that we live our faith out in the world. If not, we are compartmentalizing our faith.

Starting in verse 8, we read about the impact of choosing to live with the heart of God as we work to live our out faith. Verse 8 reads, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”. Our light draws others to God. Our souls are healed. We will call out and God will say, “Here I am”. We will come closer in our walk with God. May we seek to discover and grow closer to the heart of God as we worship, as we pray, as we study our Bibles, as we meet with our fellow Christians, and as we live out our faith. May it all be so.

Prayer: Lord, make your heart my heart. Align my thoughts, my words, my actions with your heart, O God. Amen.