pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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All Nations, All Peoples

Reading: Luke 4: 21-30

Verse 23: “Surely you will quote me this Proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’. Do here in your hometown…”

It is likely that almost everyone in the synagogue in Nazareth knew Jesus – many since He was a baby or since He was a small boy. As He claims that He fulfills the prophecy from Isaiah 61, many in the crowd think or say, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son”? Isn’t Jesus just the carpenter’s boy? Hearing or sensing this, Jesus says, “Surely you will quote me this Proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’. Do here in your hometown…”. It is hard to be at home as something or someone different than you were just a few months before. The crowd, who are hanging in the balance, want to see someone new, someone who has made good. To know it is true, they want to see a sign, a miracle. They want proof for who Jesus is claiming to be.

Perhaps the words from Jeremiah 1 – the words that we have been looking at the past two days – began to ring in Jesus’ ears. Maybe Jesus hears God reminding Him of who He was created to be. Jesus knows the plans that God has for Him. Perhaps this is what keeps Jesus from offering a sign at this moment. Pretty fresh off of the temptations in the wilderness, perhaps Satan returns with a fury, egging Jesus on to ‘just do it’. Satan would delight in Jesus using His power for the wrong reasons – to bring Himself glory. But Jesus resists all of this.

Instead, Jesus chooses to redefine their understanding of God and faith. To His audience, who are part of the chosen people, Jesus shares two stories that illustrate that God is bigger than Israel’s God. In reminding them that God rescued a foreign widow’s son fro death and healed a Syrian army commander of leprosy, Jesus is saying that it is not all about Israel. The idea that God’s love extends beyond them, beyond the people who keep the circle tightly closed, beyond the people who look down upon all outside of Israel as Gentiles, this was too much.

Yet we know it is not too much. To go just to Zarephath or to heal just an outsider who wanders in is not enough. Jesus called us to go to the ends of the earth, to make disciples of all nations, if all peoples. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, may I live into Jesus’ vision of the kingdom here on earth. It is a kingdom that includes all people. May I see all as a part of your family, especially those who have trouble seeing it themselves. Guide me to help others to become someone who walks in the light and love of Jesus. Amen.

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Light and Love

Reading: Isaiah 60: 1-6

Verse 3: “Nations will come to your light, and Kings to the brightness of your dawn”.

As Isaiah writes today’s words, most of Israel remains in exile in Babylon. Some of those have melded into the culture there and will not return to Israel. Exile has become home. A small remnant has returned to rebuild Jerusalem, but they feel like foreigners in a strange land. They are not strong or powerful; they feel weak and helpless. Yet Isaiah reminds them that God is with them.

Sometimes I think this is what many Christians feel like in this post-Christian era. We feel like we are in the minority. Much of the time our beliefs and understandings clash with today’s cultural norms. It feels like we are a small remnant. And often we feel powerless in the world, like strangers in a foreign land.

Isaiah speaks words of hope to Israel. He writes, “The Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you”. Even though they feel powerless and a bit out of place, God’s presence rises over them. Their power is not in arms or swords or thick walls around Jerusalem. Their power is in God’s presence with them.

We too can claim this message from Isaiah. In a world too easily filled with darkness, we too are surrounded by God’s presence. God’s presence in our lives fills us with a light and love that we can share with those we know and encounter who are living in darkness. In a nation where diversity and differences seem to be the priority, God’s light and love offer unity and cooperation. Verse 3 reads, “Nations will come to your light, and Kings to the brightness of your dawn”. As Christians, we know God’s light and love. May we bring that light and love into the broken and dark world, bringing hope and peace. May this verse be our prayer for the day and for the new year that lies just ahead. May our lives and our faith be a blessing to our world.

Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of peace and hope, of light and love. May your light and love shine out brightly every day. May the light and love of Jesus in my heart become a beacon of light to all who are lost and living in darkness. May it be so O 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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If…

Reading: Psalm 124

Verses 6 and 8: Praise be to the Lord… Our help is in the name of the Lord.

The psalmist wrestles with an interesting thought today that is good for us to wrestle with from time to time.  The idea is “if…”. In the Psalm, he is considering the plight of the nation of Israel ‘if’ the Lord was not with them.  The writer realizes that without the Lord they would have been ‘swallowed’, ‘engulfed’, and ‘swept away’.  On its own, Israel would have long ago disappeared from the earth and would have existed only in history books just like thousands of other tribes.  But God was with them. “Praise be to the Lord”.

When I look back and consider my life, I too have many ‘if’ scenarios.  There are times where the hand of the Lord guided me to safety or kept harm from me.  There are times when the Lord our God has shown me the path to take or the decision to make and good and blessing have resulted.  Many times I have sinned and repented and found forgiveness and have been made new and whole again.  It is a good thing to ponder the ‘if…’ – where would I be now without God’s guidance, protection, direction, and forgiveness?  These thoughts lead me to where the psalmist went: praise be to the Lord!

God is always active and involved in our world and in our lives.  God remains our protector, our defender, our conscious, our guide, our redeemer, our hope, and our love.  For the Lord our God we say thanks be to God.  “Our help us in the name of the Lord”.  Amen and amen!


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Mercy

Reading: Romans 11: 1-2a and 29-32

Verse 29: God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable.

Romans 11 deals with Israel, the people of God, and their rejection of Jesus as Messiah.  Paul writes from the perspective of one who used to be a very devout Jew but is now a follower of Jesus Christ.  He looks at the people he dearly loves, his fellow Jews, and is heartbroken that by and large they do not accept Jesus as the Messiah.  Through his own personal encounter with Jesus and his subsequent faith journey,  He knows Jesus intimately and he loves Jesus deeply.  Because of this, Paul wants all people to know Jesus as Lord – especially the chosen people of God, his own countrymen, his fellow Jews.

In today’s passage, Paul emphatically declares that God has not rejected the Jews.  Paul writes, “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable”.  The call of God upon the Jews is irrevocable.  Since the beginning of time, God has been in relationship with this people.  In the beginning He walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden.  The conversation continued through Moses and Samuel and Elijah and… as God continued this relationship with His chosen people.  The conversation continued with Jesus, who was born of the chosen people, born from the line of David.

Paul then turns the conversation to present reality.  Because of the Jew’s rejection of Jesus (which Paul calls disobedience), the way was opened for the Gentiles to end their disobedience and to accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  It was through God’s mercy that the relationship was extended beyond the chosen people.  For Paul, God’s mercy is still present, waiting for the Jews to respond.  God’s call to the chosen people is still in tact.  But to Paul, the tables have now been turned.  The people who were not chosen have accepted Jesus and through this merciful act of God, they now are called to minister to the Jews, “that they too may have mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you”.  In other words, because of the mercy they have received others may now receive it.  

Jesus commissioned all believers to go out and share the good news and to make disciples of all nations.  Part of the good news for us is the mercy we receive from God.  Paul saw the chosen people as one of many nations who needed to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  There continues to be many who need to experience God’s mercy and to hear the good news.  Like Paul, who did all he could to share Jesus with others, may we too do all we can to help others know Jesus and God’s mercy.


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Love and Justice and Mercy

Reading: Genesis 37: 1-4 and 12-28

Verse Four: They hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

Joseph is clearly the father’s favorite.  Israel loves Joseph more than any of his other sons.  In today’s passage, Israel makes Joseph a “richly ornamented robe”.  For a second, recall Joseph and his dreams of his brothers and even his father and mother bowing down to him.  For a second, recall Joseph’s penchant for tattling on his brothers.  Now Joseph waltzes in, showing off his new coat.  Joseph certainly plays up his favored son status.  His brother’s reaction?  “They hated him and could not speak a kind word to him”.

Later in our passage, Israel decides to send Joseph out to check on the others sons and the flocks.  He tells Joseph to “bring word back to me”.  As the brothers see Joseph coming, they plot to kill him.  In our society today, does this still happen?  Do some who live without look at those who have much with hatred and envy?  Thanks without may desire to do away with the ones with privilege and power, especially the ones who flaunt it.  So, when we go to the city to serve in the rescue mission, do those in line look at us this way?  If we act as if we are stooping down to do something ‘good’ or if we act aloof, certainly we are seen this way.  If we are unwilling to sit and hear another’s story, to communicate that they are worthy of our time and attention, then we remain distant and privileged.

Reuben speaks up for Joseph and plans to come back later to rescue him.  When violence and injustice and hatred arise today, do we act as Reuben acted?  Do we try and lessen it and plan on coming back later to partially address the situation?  Or do we stand up for what is righteous and choose to stand in the gap, saying ‘no more’?  At times we will see prejudice or hatred, injustice or abuse.  Then and there, do we addresd it fully?  Do we stand for those in need of our voice and courage?  Do we love and care for all as God loves and cares for all?  Or do we leave them in the cistern and hope to come back later?

O God of love and justice and mercy, make me an instrument of Your love and justice and mercy.


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Hope

Reading: Luke 24: 13-21

Verse 21: We had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel.

Two followers of Jesus are walking along the road to Emmaus.  The events of the last three days must have dominated the conversation.  They had passed through the dark days of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.  They had sat through the ‘now what?’ of Saturday.  They have heard the women tell of an empty tomb and of angels saying Jesus is alive.  But no one has seen Jesus at this point in their minds.  It is just a story at this point and much of their minds are caught up in the events of the past few days.

Instead of appearing as Jesus to these men, his identity is hidden.  He invites them to share their story and emotions and recent experience with Him.  He invites them into sharing the hopes they had, the disappointment they felt, and the desire to believe again.  All of these things are part of life.  We go through them as well.  For the disciples and followers of Jesus, these things must have been swirling around in their heads.  In this little part of the road to Emmaus story, Jesus draws out of these two men all that they are feeling and what is in their hearts.

At times our trials and disappointments can ‘here’ Jesus from our eyes as well.  The grief or anger can blind us or be a barrier that gets in the way.  These parts of life that we’d rather avoid are unavoidable.  Life brings us all the good as well as all the bad.  Jesus desires to walk along through it all with us as well.  Jesus wants to be our constant.  Jesus wants to hear it all.  He wants to hear our joys and our sorrows, our dreams and our disappointments, our requests and our thanksgivings.  He wants our joyous choruses and our angry rants.  He wants it all because He wants all of us.

The men confided their ultimate hope in Jesus, saying, “We had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel”.  Soon they would better understand all that has recently transpired and soon they would know that indeed their hope has been realized.  Their eyes would be opened and they would recognize their Lord and their Savior.  Jesus wants to be the same for each of us: Lord and Savior, ever present help and ever present peace.  Thank you Jesus!