pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Sing God’s Praises

Reading: Psalm 146

Verse 5: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”.

The psalmist has chosen God. He will praise God and he will put his trust in God. In contrast to this, the psalmist addresses where many put their trust – in man. He writes, “Do not put your trust in mortal men, who cannot save”. They die and return to the earth; their plans end with them. We often extend this idea to the things of men. We place our trust in our possessions, in our wealth, in our titles, in ourselves. All of this is finite. None of this has the power to save. Only the Lord can save.

The psalmist goes on to write, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”. We can place our trust in God because God is the maker of all and because God “remains faithful forever”. This contrasts sharply with men and the things of man. God is also pure love and goodness. Because of who God is, because God is faithful to his children, the cause of the oppressed is upheld, food is given to the hungry, prisoners are set free, the blind receive sight, those who are down are lifted up, the alien is watched over, the orphan and the widow are sustained. God cares for and loves on the weak and powerless. God gives hope and strength to the least and the neediest. How does the God who dwells in heaven do all this? Through those who are faithful.

Remember where the Psalm began – with the rulers of the earth. Their plans cannot save, they fade. They are concerned with themselves and their things. Contrast this to the desires of God. The endless love of God is concerned with those who are in need. There is poverty and neglect in our cities. Many sit in prisons – some with bars and some without. Injustice and abuses of power splash across the headlines and our feeds. A stream of aliens, orphans, and widows nears the land of opportunity. As the people of God, how are we making God known in the midst of all this hurt and pain and sadness? How are we working alongside God to alleviate the affects of poverty and injustice and inequality and prejudice? When we enter into the places and into the lives of those affected by these things, we bring the hope and love of God with us. We are opening the door for them to know God, to know God’s endless love. One day they will also sing God’s praises. May the work of our hands and feet and the love in our hearts make it so.

Lord, make me an instrument of hope, love, and peace. Amen.


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Simple Relationships

Reading: Mark 7: 1-8

Verse 6: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”.

Today’s passage deals with who we are as opposed to who we want to appear to be. This passage applies to us as individuals and to our churches as well.

The Pharisees and religious leaders notice Jesus’ disciples doing something that they think shouldn’t be done. They are eating with unclean hands. The disciples did not wash their hands before eating. Yes, there is a practical side to this. But the religious folk aren’t concerned with this aspect. They are concerned with the spiritual implications of eating with unclean hands. By simply being in the world, one can possibly touch something that itself is unclean. If you then eat without ceremonially washing, then the sin or impurity enters you. So they ask, “Jesus, why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders”?

Jesus does not really answer their question. He turns the subject back on them. Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13, saying, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. The religious folks know what to say. They also ought to know why they are saying it. They have lost their connection with the source of the Law. Over the years the Torah or law has grown to the point of being cumbersome. Many of the traditions or rules are things that man has added over time. The intent was to help people follow the law, but it has become a long list of things to do or to check off the list. It has moved far away from worshipping God. Jesus reflects, “You have let go of the commandments of God and are holding onto the traditions of men”.

We too can fall into following man-made traditions or rules and can allow these to drag us far from God. If we go to church on Sunday morning but it becomes a burden or hardship, is it really worshipful to God? If we go up and eat the bread and drink the juice but do not confess and repent of our sins, is it really holy communion? If we say we are a welcoming church but do not engage the stranger who enters our midst, are we really loving all people? If we read our Bibles each day but do not apply the Word to our lives, is it really a meaningful discipline? Yes, this is just the beginning of a long list of questions.

O Lord, give us faith and not religion. Give us relationships and not lists of rules. May our faith be about simple relationships – loving you and loving neighbor. And may all we say and do and think flow from these two central commands. May it be so. Amen.


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Would you…?

Reading: Mark 3: 1-6

Verse Four: “Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill'”?

Today’s passage has three perspectives. Let’s begin with the man. The man with the shriveled hand is most likely a beggar – relying on the charity of others to eat, to have clothing, etc. To go out to find Jesus might take days. This would cost him and he would likely not eat those days. But now, right here in the temple, he has found the healer, Jesus. Jew or not, he wants healing more than to observe the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is important to the Pharisees. They “watched him closely” to see if Jesus would somehow sin, breaking a Sabbath or temple law. They see Jesus as a challenge to their authority and to their place in life. The Pharisees are also the keepers of about all that the Jews have left as the people of God. The Romans have allowed temple worship to continue. As a people living under an occupying army, religious practices and traditions are about all you have left to hold your people together. It is all that keeps them a community. These two factors combine to give the Pharisees “stubborn hearts”.

Jesus is the third yet central character in our passage. He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath and He sees the man. You just know that Jesus is filled with compassion for the man. So He asks him to stand up. Everyone look at this man. Then Jesus asks the Pharisees, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill”? Even though this is the Sabbath – the day to honor God with worship and to do no work – what do we do with this man? For the man and Jesus there is only one correct answer. To the Pharisees, though, neither answer is acceptable. Answer one way and they are saying the Sabbath has no value. Answer the other way and they are saying the man has no value. It is a no-win situation for the Pharisees, so they remain silent.

Would you buy that cake for your child’s birthday with your last $20 or would you pay for the groceries for that single mom in front of you in line without enough? Would you be on time for that super important meeting or would you stop and help that elderly lady change her flat tire? We often stand in the Pharisees shoes – how do we decide between two goods? As Jesus did, may we choose the better good, always valuing relationship over to institution.


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Love Our Fellow Man

Reading: Romans 13: 8-10

Verse Eight: He who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law.

God has always loved humankind.  Mankind was created in His image and we are intended to be like Him.  The essence of the relationship between God and human beings is love.  God loves us and cares for us in so many ways.  In return, we love God and try to live lives that are pleasing to God.  To help us understand what love is really all about, Jesus came and walked among us, revealing what it looks like to live out God’s love for humanity.  Jesus did not really come to teach us a bunch of new things but to better understand what was already there.  When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He did not make up something new.  Instead He reached deep into the scriptures and named two from the Old Testament.  Both centered on love.  Jesus said, in fact, that if we love God with all we are and if we love neighbor as self, then all the other commandments will follow.

Paul picks up on these themes today.  In an increasingly diverse church, Paul is sensing a growing need for unity and community.  So he returns to the foundation: love.  It is at the center of God, was at the center of Jesus, and must be at the center of all believers.  In verse eight Paul writes, “He who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law”.  For Paul, we must love one another.  This is where unity and community begin.  Once we truly love one another then things like trust and cooperation and hospitality are soon to follow.  Once we begin to understand this aspect of God’s love, we begin to practice it with others.

Being human himself and understanding that the church is made up of other sinful creatures, Paul also knew another aspect of God’s love was also important.  Paul knew the church also needed to know and live out God’s love revealed in His mercy.  At times our relationships require forgiveness and reconciliation.  This side of God’s love is all about renewing and restoring and forgiving.  This too is a part of God’s love for us.  This too is a part that we are called to share with one another.  In all ways this day, may we each love our fellow man.


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Love Our Fellow Man

Reading: Romans 13: 8-10

Verse Eight: He who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law.

God has always loved humankind.  Mankind was created in His image and we are intended to be like Him.  The essence of the relationship between God and human beings is love.  God loves us and cares for us in so many ways.  In return, we love God and try to live lives that are pleasing to God.  To help us understand what love is really all about, Jesus came and walked among us, revealing what it looks like to live out God’s love for humanity.  Jesus did not really come to teach us a bunch of new things but to better understand what was already there.  When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He did not make up something new.  Instead He reached deep into the scriptures and named two from the Old Testament.  Both centered on love.  Jesus said, in fact, that if we love God with all we are and if we love neighbor as self, then all the other commandments will follow.

Paul picks up on these themes today.  In an increasingly diverse church, Paul is sensing a growing need for unity and community.  So he returns to the foundation: love.  It is at the center of God, was at the center of Jesus, and must be at the center of all believers.  In verse eight Paul writes, “He who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law”.  For Paul, we must love one another.  This is where unity and community begin.  Once we truly love one another then things like trust and cooperation and hospitality are soon to follow.  Once we begin to understand this aspect of God’s love, we begin to practice it with others.

Being human himself and understanding that the church is made up of other sinful creatures, Paul also knew another aspect of God’s love was also important.  Paul knew the church also needed to know and live out God’s love revealed in His mercy.  At times our relationships require forgiveness and reconciliation.  This side of God’s love is all about renewing and restoring and forgiving.  This too is a part of God’s love for us.  This too is a part that we are called to share with one another.  In all ways this day, may we each love our fellow man.


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One Man

Reading: Romans 5: 12-19

In today’s reading, we have the first Adam and the second Adam, Jesus Christ.  In both Adam and Christ we are all connected together.  By all, I mean all people – not just Christians.  The choices that Adam and Jesus made affects all people, not just believers.

Adam chose to sin and through that sin death entered the world.  In this one act of disobedience, Adam brought death to humanity.  We will all one day die as a part of this earthly existence.  Whether or not you believe in God or in Jesus, one day death will come.  Death comes not just to our human bodies.  Sin also brings death to our relationships, to our dreams, to our connection to God.  All of humanity shares in these realities.  Adam’s choice brought sin into the world.  In turn, sin brings condemnation and death.

Christ made a different choice.  Christ’s choice was also made by one man, but in obedience to God.  Through Christ’s decision, true life entered the world.  It is not the earthly life we now experience but the glimpse of eternal life that all who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will one day experience.  Verse nineteen reads, “Through the obedience of the one man many will be made righteous”.  Jesus, in His obedience, paid the price of our sin and instead of condemnation, God now offers us justification.  Through the body and blood of Jesus, we can be made whole again, righteous in God’s sight, because Jesus washes away our sins.

Just as Adam’s choice affected all of humanity, so too does Christ’s choice.  We also know from Romans that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.  We know from all four Gospels that Jesus always operated from the place of love.  Jesus’ love was extended to all people – to tax collectors, to prostitutes, to Pharisees, to lepers, to any and all who came to Him.  In the same way, Jesus offers eternal life to us all.  To me, a sinner.  To you, a sinner.  To all.  It is a free gift, generously given to one and to all.  Thank you Lord Jesus for this amazing love.