pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Lost But Found

Reading: Luke 15: 1-3 and 11b-32

Verse 32: “But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”.

The bulk of our reading again today is the story of the prodigal son. It follows the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. In these the shepherd and the woman do all they can to find what was lost. Like with the lost son, when what “was lost and is found”, they “had to celebrate and be glad”. These three stories of rejoicing in heaven and on earth are told in response to some muttering by some Pharisees and religious leaders. They had muttered about Jesus, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them”.

For the self-righteous and judgmental religious folks sin was to be avoided at all costs. Sin is bad. Sin separates one from God. Sin makes one unclean and unable to participate fully in the temple. The Pharisees and religious leaders act as if sin is contagious. They are appalled when Jesus eats with sinners. They are also appalled when Jesus touches lepers or when He allows a prostitute to touch Him or when He calls a tax collector as a follower or when He calls one down from a tree to eat with him and his friends. At first I smirked at the idea of sin being contagious. Then I looked in the mirror and realized it sure can be! It often is. Gossip is a good example of this. The Pharisees and religious leaders feared sin so they walled up inside the four walls of the temple and they avoided contact – any contact – with those who were struggling with sin. Their message was: be right with God and then you can come to worship and hang out with us. This idea runs so counter to how Jesus did ministry. Yet today we continue to at least hint at the idea that you must look like, act like, live like, believe like we do to be a part of “us” in many societal groups and organizations and in many of our churches. So before we look down on the Pharisees and religious leaders too much, let us turn to the father.

The younger son realizes he has sinned. He humbles himself and decides to return to the father. He admits his sins and asks to be a hired hand, saying, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son”. The father had every right to say, “Yes, go find the foreman and he’ll find you a bed in the bunkhouse and he’ll put you to work”. He had every right. But instead the father says, “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”. There is then much rejoicing over the one that was lost but found. The older son has trouble with this idea. The Pharisees and religious leaders probably did too. And too many times we do too.

We are so grateful when the Father forgives our sins and welcomes us back into the family as a child of God. May we go forth and do the same for another who is lost.

Prayer: Jesus, my redeemer, may I love and welcome all as you loved and welcomed me, a sinner saved by grace. Amen.

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Seek… Know

Reading: Isaiah 55: 6-9

Verse 6: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near”.

In our four verses for today we get a glimpse of both the intimate, personal, knowable God and the all-powerful, way up in the heavens God. God is at once both but is also everywhere in between. God created the stars that are billions of miles away but also knows every hair on our heads.

Verse 6 reads, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near”. Yes, we do seek the Lord. Even though God is present everywhere, God does not force His way into our lives. We must seek the Lord. There are many ways to seek the Lord. God can be found in nature, in times of prayer, in worship, in times of Bible reading and study. God is especially found in the person of Jesus, who was God in the flesh. In Jesus we see what it looks like to live out God’s love here on earth. It is also through Jesus that God can be most near to us. When we choose to ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, He comes to us in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. One does not get closer than having God dwell in our hearts.

In verse 7 we get another glimpse into God’s love. In this verse we see the invitation to know God is extended to all people – even to the “wicked” and “evil”. If they, even they, simply do as we do, they too can be saved. By turning from their sins, the Lord will have mercy and will “freely pardon” them. God’s great love is for all people. If and when we stray and sin, God still loves us and desires to offer us mercy and grace and redemption.

In verses 8 and 9 we get a glimpse of God’s vastness and superiority. Most simply put, God is not one of us. God desires to be one with us but will never be one of us. In Jesus, God chose to be like us. Yet even then Jesus was still partly divine. In verse 8 we read, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways”. God’s thoughts and ways are higher than our thoughts and ways. While we are each created in God’s image and are called to be like Jesus, we are not God and we will never reach the perfection of Jesus, He who was without sin.

In this life, in this body, we do seek the Lord so that we can know Him more and so that we can be more and more like Jesus. This day and every day, may we seek the Lord, turning back to God when we have fallen short, dwelling each day in the Lord just as the Spirit’s presence lives in us.

Prayer: Dear God, you are as close as my next breath, your Spirit dwelling in me. Yet you are a great and vast and powerful God. I am just beginning to know you. Each day may I know you more. May it be so. Amen.


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Measure Out Love

Reading: Luke 6: 32-38

Verse 36: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”.

Jesus continues in our passage today with the same radical love that we saw yesterday. Today He begins by comparing our call to love with the world’s way of love. Jesus points out that even ‘sinners’ love, do good, and lend to those who do the same to them. “What credit is it to you?” Jesus asks over and over. To just do the things the world does has no value in God’s kingdom. Again Jesus reiterates the call to love, do good to, and to lend to our enemies, but adds, “without expecting to get anything back”. This is nearing a godly love. Love them even though you know they will keep on sinning. Love us anyway God, even though you know we’ll fall short.

Why try and love as God loves? Because then we will be sons and daughters of God most high. Jesus reminds us why, saying, “because He is kind to the wicked and ungrateful”. He could just as well have said, “because He loves you”. With our worldly eyes this is hard to see, to understand. But it is the way of God and will be the way of Jesus Christ. In verse 36 Jesus offers another way to look at it: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”. Over and over again, we sin and hurt our relationship with God. Over and over. And over and over God extends mercy and says, “I still love you”. Over and over.

In the last two verses for today, Jesus gives us some examples of why we are to love even our enemies with this radical, all-encompassing love. It takes us back to the ‘golden rule’ of verse 31. But in these examples there are three parties – us, them, and God. Do not judge them and we will not be judged by God. Do not condemn them and we will not be condemned by God. Forgive them and we will be forgiven by God. Give to them and God will give to us. Love matters. It certainly does in our relationship with God so it had better matter in our relationship with others.

The section closes with this line: “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”. Powerful. May we measure out lots of love, mercy, and grace today and every day.

Prayer: God of love, may I practice daily what your Son lived out every day. May love be my guide as it was Jesus’ guide. Amen.


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Choose Love

Reading: Genesis 45: 3-7

Verse 5: “For God sent me before you to preserve life”.

Today’s passage is part of a familiar story. As we pick it up today, Joseph has been in Egypt a long time and has risen to the second place in the kingdom – second only to Pharoah. But it has not been an easy ascent. He has been a slave, has been falsely accused, and has spent time in prison. And he has been blessed over and over by God. Now the brothers who sold him into slavery stand before him begging for some food. Famine has struck the lands far and wide.

Joseph may have felt a twinge to extract a little payback from these brothers of his. A lesser man might have chosen revenge. But God has been at work in Joseph’s life for many years now. Each trial and suffering that he has been through has refined and developed his trust in God. No matter how bad things seemed to be, God has always seen Joseph through. So as he looks back on the events of his early life, when he had those dreams and when his own brothers sold him off into slavery, Joseph can see the overarching hand of God at work. He says to his brothers, who are fearing the worst: “God sent me here before you to preserve life”. It was God – not you – who sent me to Egypt. It was God’s plan all along that it would work out just like this. It is pretty amazing to see the story through God’s eyes.

In our lives we too come to these moments. We come to these crossroads where we can choose love or hate, where we can choose to forgive or to hold onto our anger. Our faith calls us to choose love and to extend mercy every time. Every time. Our faith calls us to lay aside our own hurts and to offer healing. Every time. We may feel like we have the right to be mad or hurt or to strike back. Not so. Never. We are people of love and light and hope and mercy. Always. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Lord, when it is hard, grant me the courage to lay aside my anger and jealousy and bitterness. Help me to cling to light and love. Allow all I say and do to shine your glory out into the world. Amen.


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Pleasing

Reading: Psalm 19:14

Verse 14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer”.

These words are familiar words. The sermon or message in many churches, mine included, begins with these words. These words ask God to be present in and through the Word proclaimed and to guide our thoughts and responses to the message given. It is a prayer for both the pastor and the congregation. I love how this prayer closes with the dual reminder that the Lord is our foundation and our mercy – our guide through life and our help when we get astray.

Many of us walk out the doors of worship on Sunday morning and return to the world and its ways almost immediately – cussing the one who cut us off in traffic or being rude to the waiter. Some if us might manage to make it to Monday morning before the world creeps back in. At work or school we gossip about the weekend or we resume the shady, worldly business or study practices that we felt convicted of just the day before. We find there is no shortage of ways that we can be displeasing to the Lord. The world is always providing opportunities or encouragement to do so. The battle is constant.

But so is God’s love. And His mercies are new every morning. And His grace is unending. The world is where we now dwell, so the lures of this world will be there. But Jesus had overcome the world. Through faith in Him, we too can walk in the light. Just as Sunday morning is that little boost to our faith and walk, so too can be our own daily time with God. When we read and study and meditate on God’s Word daily, He becomes more a part of our lives. When we spend time each day talking with God, our prayers strengthen our faith. When we open ourselves to the guide and direction of the Holy Spirit, our faith grows stronger still. When we choose to be faithful to our daily disciplines – time in the Word, time in prayer, time connected to the Holy Spirit – our walk with the Lord is closer. We find that we grow more and more into today’s verse. More and more often our words of our mouth and the thoughts of our hearts are pleasing to God. More and more the Lord is our Rock and Redeemer. May we each stay deeply in love with God, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second. Amen.

Prayer: Lord, this moment and every moment, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.


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Imagine

Reading: Colossians 3: 12-17

Verse 17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus”.

As I read today’s passage, I think what wonderful New Years resolutions it makes. What would 2019 look like if we were intentional each day about living filled with all that Paul writes about in these six verses?

What if we each sought to treat all with kindness and humility and compassion and patience? It would radically change most of our day to day relationships. What if we made the choice to bear with all we meet and to be people of forgiveness? It would radically change our relationships with those in our next circle. What if we chose to love as Jesus Christ loved, loving all people and not just our inner circle? Talk about radical change in our relationships, especially with the stranger and the outsider.

Verses 15-17 center on centering our lives on Jesus Christ. First, Paul invites us to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. Each day we rest in Him. This allows our wants and needs to come after meeting everyone else’s. Second, Paul reminds us that the Word must dwell richly in our hearts. Not just dwell, but dwell richly. This means we must feast on the Word, delving deeply into our Bibles each day. Thus we give the Word free reign in our lives, allowing it to lead and guide all we do and say. Ultimately, this leads to Paul’s third idea: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus”. Choose to do and say and think everything for the glory of the Lord. Follow Jesus’ example always. Then we bring glory to God.

Imagine our world and our lives if each and every day, if each and every thought, word, and deed were focused on bringing God praise and glory. Imagine. Just imagine.

Prayer: Lord may I be filled with your love. Out of this love flows all that you are – compassion, kindness, patience, peace, mercy, grace. Fill me up and ground me in your Word, the book of life. In all that I am may I glorify you. Amen.


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Where’s Your Bethlehems?

Reading: Micah 5: 2-5a

Verse 4: “He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord”.

Out of tiny Bethlehem will come the ruler of the world. Out of this small village will come Jesus Christ, the Lord. It is a great claim to fame for a really little place. In reality, it is a small place in a small country. Israel today is only the size of a small state – closest to Massachusetts or New Hampshire. But size – big or small – is not what is important or relevant. What happened there is what matters. Bethlehem is where love and peace and hope and mercy and grace and forgiveness took on flesh and entered the world.

We often encounter Jesus in church. At times I will find myself overwhelmed with His presence, tears streaming down my face as we sing a song or hymn. But Jesus is not just in church. He came to “shepherd His flock” everywhere, not just inside the walls of our churches. This leads me to consider where else I have met Jesus. Each of these is my own little Bethlehem – relatively unimportant in the big scheme of things, but very significant to me and my faith. It was once in the balcony of my home church on a Friday night during a retreat. It was once in the emergency room in tiny Torrington, Connecticut. I have encountered God over and over in so many places. Each has been a blessing to me.

This leads me to invite you to take a few moments to recall your Bethlehems. When and where have you encountered the peace or love or grace or… of Jesus Christ? This day, take some time to celebrate and thank God for His presence in your life. May it be a time of blessing for you.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for meeting me in church, in the woods, in the ER and birthing rooms, in the mission field, and in many other places. Thank you God. Amen.