pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Heaven Rejoices

Reading: Luke 15: 1-10

Verse 10: “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents”.

The religious leaders are critical of Jesus for eating with sinners. His response is to tell two stories that let the religious leaders know that living out one’s faith is sometimes about living with the sinners. It is quite a contrast in their understandings of how faith works itself out. The Pharisees and other religious leaders think it is all about ministry to those already inside the four walls of the temple – to those just like them. Jesus was also about going outside the walls and ministering to the lost so that they could come inside the walls and could learn to be like him. These are radically different approaches.

Both stories that Jesus shares end in rejoicing. He illustrates the joy we experience when something that was lost is found. We have all experienced this in our lives. Whether it is car keys or that important letter or our purse or wallet or our phone… we all know that smile and good feeling that comes when we find that lost item. The shepherd feels it and the woman with the coin feels it. Heaven also feels it. In verse ten we read, “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents”. Verse seven is very similar: much rejoicing. How much more important to recover a lost soul than a set of car keys or whatever! Imagine for a moment what those celebrations in heaven look and feel like.

Yes, heaven is joyful when the church gathers for worship. Yes, there are probably knowing smiles, nods, high fives… when we kneel to pray or when we crack open our Bibles. I am sure that our practices of the faith are pleasing in God’s sight. But the living out of our faith cannot just be within the walls of our churches or just within our hearts. We must also practice what Jesus teaches in these two stories. Like him, we too need to seek the lost, to talk with them, to eat with them, to walk with them. We need to help them find a connection to the Good Shepherd. We are called to GO and to make disciples. Can we also make heaven rejoice today over one sinner who repents and turns to God?

Prayer: Lord, we are told that the harvest is ready, that the fields are ripe. Many people today are lost and are seeking that which is missing in their lives. Others are struggling with sin. Help me to reach out today to the lost and the broken. Amen.


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Watch Out

Reading: Mark 12: 38-40

Verse 38: “Watch out for the teachers of the law…”

Jesus is teaching a large crowd in the temple when He shares some observations about the religious leaders – the teachers of the law. This passage is one of several we find in the Gospels where Jesus addresses the appearance of these men and then contrasts it with what is actually inside of their hearts. In reality, this is an issue we all face.

The teachers love their positions and the cultural respect that comes with the title. The teachers of the law were the top of the social ladder. All young boys dreamed of becoming rabbis when they grew up. Only the best and the brightest would be selected for advanced study and from there only a portion would become a rabbi. One can work so hard to get ‘there’ that sometimes we forget why we were aiming at that goal.

Jesus observes that the teachers wear long robes to be noticed. They like people to see them and to call out to them. Today there are lots of people who dress a certain way to draw attention to themselves. The teachers like the important seats – again so that they will be noticed. Some today like to be front and center to be seen. The teachers “devour widow’s houses”, using their power and authority to take advantage of the elderly and the powerless. Today folks in power prey on the weak and defenseless, using their authority to manipulate and sometimes even to abuse.

While today’s passage speaks most directly to those of us who are pastors and priests, it applies to all people who have any degree of power or authority. When we allow the title or the recognition to be more important than loving and serving others, then we have lost sight of the #1 command to love God and neighbor. We must all remind ourselves over and over that this is our call. When temptation arises to use our power or authority for personal gain, we must repent of our sin immediately. In the battle with pride and ego and self, may we ever strive to remember that all we have and are is a gift and blessing from God Almighty. Ever and always, may all of our thoughts, words, and actions be pleasing in God’s sight.

Lord, each day may I seek to love mercy, to act justly, and to walk humbly with you, my Savior and King. Amen.


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A Faith Still There

Reading: Mark 10: 46-52

Verse 46: “As Jesus and His disciples… were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus, was sitting by the roadside begging”.

As Jesus is beginning His last journey to Jerusalem, He encounters a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. In Jesus’ day, the term ‘blind beggar’ would maybe seem redundant. Almost all who were blind or lame or deaf or otherwise disabled had to beg to survive. There were no social services in Jewish society, no places that cared for those with a disability. Yes, the Jews had a place in their hearts for the orphan and the widow, but not for people like Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus’ life would be lonely and hard. His blindness would carry the stigma of sin and, with that, he would be shunned and ignored. Life would be lived on the fringes of society, survival dependant on what folks who passed by on the street would give to this man. The regular passersby would quickly grow accustomed to the man always there begging. These people would quickly become like the many in cities today who walk right past the homeless as if they were not even there. After a while the emotional weight of this would be greater that the affects of the physical disability itself.

When people are ignored, intentionally passed by, it affects how they feel inside. Questions of worth begin to mount. Anger against those who just pass by builds. It would be easy to question God and to become bitter towards God. It would’ve been understandable for Bartimaeus to disconnect from God. But he does not. His faith is still there. And Jesus is on the way.

Lord, help me to see those on the fringes. Continue to create in me a heart that sees and responds. Build up the Holy Spirit in me so that the voice is loud and the nudge is strong. Give me a soul that cares as you care, that loves as you love. Amen.


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A Clean Heart

Reading: Mark 7: 14-16 & 21-23

Verses 15-16: “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean'”.

As far back as the beginning, God has looked at humanity differently than we look at ourselves. God chose people like Abel, Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Esther, David, Mary, Peter, Paul… not because they were the most beautiful or the strongest or the most intelligent. He chose them because of the stuff on the inside – the stuff that is hard for us to see. Sometimes we struggle with this idea. Sometimes we cannot look past the outside.

All groups have rules that govern the group, their behavior, who can be a part of the group… The ritual cleansing laws were just one of many law that kept the Jews separate from the peoples around them. Identity was important. As the chosen people, standards had to be kept. When the religious leaders saw Jesus’ disciples – who were all Jews – not following the rules, they questioned Jesus about it.

In our passage today, Jesus returns to God’s practice of being concerned with what is on the inside, not on the outside. Jesus responds to the leaders by saying, “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean'”. This makes perfect sense. But it disrupts the status quo. But it makes sense. Eating with unclean hands does not make one more or less likely to sin. Drinking coffee instead of tea does not increase or decrease one’s ability to resist temptation. In verse 17, Jesus points out that whatever we eat or drink “doesn’t go into the heart but into the stomach”. Temptation and sin reside in the heart.

Jesus goes on to share quite a list of evils that can be found in the heart. When we allow our thoughts to turn to and to dwell on theft or murder or lust or envy or arrogance or pride or… then evil will surely come out, making us ‘unclean’. The battle to remain ‘clean’ is a fight in the heart. It is a battle that we must have help in if we are to remain in a right relationship with our Lord and Savior.

This day, O Lord, give me a clean heart and a right spirit. Purge all within that is impure. May the power of the Holy Spirit be quick to convict when evil thoughts begin to arise. And may I be responsive to the conviction, repenting quickly. May I honor you, O Lord, in all I do and say and think today. Amen.


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Dying Inside

Reading: Psalm 14

Verses 2-3: “The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men… all have turned aside”.

It would be easy to read today’s Psalm with an air of superiority or arrogance. We could easily think, “Oh, those poor unsaved people” or worse as we quietly relish our place in the family of God. We can choose to play the role of righteous church goer as we look down upon the masses. We can smile inside as we reflect on all those we know who fit these words from the Psalm: “The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men… all have turned aside”. It is easy to judge the other, isn’t it?

It is harder to read Psalm 14 and to honesty consider when we have been foolish and said, “There is no God”. Now, we may not voice or even think these words, but we certainly act at times as if there was no God. Maybe more precisely, we acts as if we were the gods. (If the sarcasm of the opening paragraph slipped by, read it again). At times we do loose sight of the whole love God, love neighbor thing. We instead live very self-centered lives. We focus on our wants and desires instead of seeking to meet the needs of the other. We fail to do good.

In those moments or in those seasons, God must look down from heaven to see if we are understanding His ways and seeking Him above all else. If I am honest, God stands a pretty good chance of looking down and finding me doing my own thing or going my own way. Yes, there are moments when God would look down and be pleased. But those moments could be more often. My faithful steps could fall more often.

So I pray… Lord God, help me to be a more faithful follower and a more regular witness to your love and your ways. Help me to die inside of me so that you can become more. May it be so today and every day. Amen.


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Engaging

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 7-12

Verse Ten: “… so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body”.

Today’s passage has this idea that we have something inside of us that we share with the world. In our perishable and finite bodies, these jars of clay, we have this “all-surpassing” power that assures us of the eternal and infinite promise of heaven. It is the source of this hope and promise that we share with the world.

Verse ten reads, “… so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body”. Our call is to be followers of Jesus. Figuratively, this means to walk as Jesus walked. As we look at how Jesus walked, we see that He often walked with the sick and the marginalized, with the sinner and the outcast, with the lonely and the spiritually hungry. Jesus engaged one and all as He walked in this world. It seems as if Jesus always had time for the one He found standing before Him. This is the picture of the man that we are called to follow.

This following is not easy. Paul writes of the challenges we will face – hard pressed but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. Yes, following Jesus and walking in the places and with the people that He walked with will be hard. I’ll add one more: hard but not impossible.

Paul also writes, “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake”. When Jesus is alive in our hearts and in our lives, we do offer ourselves willingly to others. We are willing to die to self and to our own selfish desires, putting the needs of others ahead of our own. This verse finishes with these words: “so that His life may be revealed”. So that others may come to know Jesus Christ too. So that others may take hold of the hope and promise that we profess.

Where can you walk as Jesus walked today? Is there a jail or prison nearby to visit? Is there a care facility or hospital that you could stop by? Is there a place in your community that feeds people or hands out food? Is there a family in your neighborhood that could use a bag of groceries? Us there an elderly neighbor who needs their lawn mowed?

May we each find a way to walk as Jesus walked – engaging the one who is in need, offering ourselves to them.


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Reclaim

Reading: Ephesians 2: 1-10

Verse Four: “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”.

Shows on TV that take old houses in Detroit or rural Mississippi and turn them into beautiful homes really draw my attention. The home is rundown, is sometimes abandoned, and is left to fall apart. But then someone sees the potential in the old bones of the house and they dive in and bring it new life. What it was and what it becomes is amazing.

In a similar way, in today’s passage, Paul writes of us: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins”. We were falling apart on the inside, we were destined for destruction, we were objects of God’s wrath. This is the path we walk when left on our own. It is the natural order of the world: decay. But we are not of the world. Just as that home rehab expert the beauty that is possible, so too does God with us. Paul writes, “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”. God reclaims us, taking away all that is sinful, making us one with Christ.

In the same way that a house in Detroit or Laura is claimed, we too are claimed by God. God knows the potential in each of us, the potential that He created us with, and He desires to free us to begin living out that potential. God makes us beautiful from the inside out so that we can be good in the world. Paul writes in verse ten that we are “God’s workmanship” and that we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works”. Through our rehab process we are made new again so that we can be His light and love in the world.

The claim that God lays upon us is eternal. Once we enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, then our ‘status’ is saved. Yes, we may stumble now and then, but we always remain a sinner saved by grace alone. So that we cannot boast, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith”. It is the free gift of God’s love that saves us. Thanks be to our God who reclaims us from our brokenness and our mess, restoring us to new life in Christ. Thank you God! Amen.