pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love, Bless, Value

Reading: Mark 10: 13-16

Verse 16: “He took the children in His arms, and He blessed them”.

Our short passage today is about many things. It begins with a desire for a blessing. It includes a desire to see the “real work” of God being done. It includes an invitation with a nod to having such simple faith. It concludes with welcome, love, and blessing.

The passage begins with parents bringing their children to Jesus. It was the norm to have the rabbi bless the child. This usually occurred at the temple, much as baptism occurs in many of our churches. To bring them to this itinerant rabbi was similar – except there was something special about this Jesus. As parents we all want our children to be blessed, so we can relate to their motives here.

But the disciples try to intervene. Children were at the bottom of the social ladder, of little worth in society’s eyes. This was part of their trying to ‘protect’ Jesus. The larger part, though, was that this would distract Jesus from the ‘real work’ of ministry: preaching, teaching, healing. This was the disciples angle, to allow Jesus to work. We can all relate here too. How often we ignore or wish we could have avoided those trivial or unimportant things or people. That phone call, that knock on the door, that email – yes, maybe distractions. But maybe opportunities to minister to another.

Preventing the children from coming to Him upsets Jesus. He elevates their status – the kingdom belongs to these – and He recognizes their inner value – examples of how to receive love and God and faith. To demonstrate this, Jesus takes them in His arms and He blesses them. I envision this being a robust hug and a personal engagement with each child. I imagine the blessing is compassionate and loving and focused on each child. It is dedicated and intentional time. It is how we too should see and receive and treat all people, especially those that society deems unworthy and of little or no value. To these belong the kingdom of God.

Father God, how you love the children! Help me to love them as you do. May I never be too busy or too selfish – for then I miss the opportunities to love and bless those you send my way. In your name I pray. Amen.

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The Foreigners

Reading: 1Kings 8: 41-43

Verses 41-43: “As for the foreigner… who has come from a distant land because of your name… when he comes and prays… then hear from heaven”.

Solomon is making a request that we all want to make. He hopes that God’s name spreads and that people outside of his nation will come to pray to God. His request of God is to hear their prayers so that foreigners know and fear the Lord. I am not sure, but I’d guess Solomon’s hope comes more from the perspective of more people knowing God than from God’s name becoming famous or from enlarging the nation.

In our lives we all want to think that we welcome in the foreigners and strangers amongst us. We want to think that the least, the lost, and the broken, the poor and the fatherless – when they get up the courage to step inside our churches – that they will feel welcomed and loved. We, like Solomon, hope that God hears their prayers and answers them so that a relationship with God begins to form. And then, if they are to come back the next Sunday and seem inclined to become a part our community of faith, then we expect them to be and look and act just like us that next week. So when the foreigner returns next week they still look a lot like a homeless man or an addict or a teenage single parent or… and we realize that this could be messy and hard. The welcome becomes just a little less welcoming.

Yes, in our heart of hearts, we want all people to come to know God and Jesus as Lord and Savior. Yes, we want all people to find a community of faith where they can find fellowship and a place to worship God. We are just not always sure that we want it to be at our nice and tidy church and in our fellowship of perfect sinners. It is difficult to really pray this hope that Solomon expresses for those in our communities who are the foreigners to us. It is even harder to live it out. Yet when we look to our example, to Jesus, we see this is exactly how He practiced ministry. To all who came, Jesus offered welcome and love and a place at the table. To all who came, Jesus ministered to their needs. To all who came, Jesus extended relationship. It did not matter who the foreigner was – tax collector, prostitute, Samaritan, demon possessed, adulterer, thief… As we strive to live out Solomon’s hope for the foreigner, may we follow Jesus’ example, loving and welcoming all.


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In Love

Readings: Isaiah 42: 1-9 and John 12: 1-11

Verse Six from Isaiah 42: “I will take you by the hand. I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light to the Gentiles”.

Today’s passage from Isaiah speaks of the “servant of the Lord”. Through New Testament eyes we see the servant who brought justice to the nations as Jesus. Just as they put their hope in God’s ways, so too do we. In verse six we find a mix of speaking of Jesus and speaking to us, His followers. The God who gives breath to His people says, “I will take you by the hand. I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light to the Gentiles”. The image of God holding our hand as we go through life is an awesome image. The thought that God will keep us safe and secure is comforting. The words that speak of making us a covenant to His people and a light for Gentiles is a bit halting. At first these words bring us pause. We want to say that is Jesus’ work. It at the very least, that is the work of the pastor or priest. But God is speaking to us here too. We are to be in a covenant relationship with each other. In our church we have been defining that as an “I love you no matter what” relationship. We are also called to love outward – to be a light to the non-believers in our lives. Through loving all people as Jesus loves us, we will be a light.

In John’s gospel we see love being poured out. One week and a couple thousand years ago, Jesus and the disciples are in Bethany at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. As they relax after dinner, Mary – the one who had sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him teach – kneels again at Jesus’ feet and extends a gift of love to Jesus. Mary uses an expensive jar of perfume to anoint His feet. She then goes one step further and dries His feet with her hair. This act of love will be replicated when Jesus washes the disciples’ feet.

In both the Isaiah text and in Mary’s example we have “go and do likewise” calls. In Isaiah 42:7 we are called to open the eyes of the blind, to free the captives, and to release those living in darkness. When we do these things we truly love one another and we are light to the world. In the example of Mary, we are called to see the blind and lost and broken as both Jesus and as Jesus saw them. We are to recognize Jesus in all and to minister to these just as Mary did – in love. It was love that led her to go one step farther and that calls ud do the same. As we enter into Holy Week, may we seek to love all we meet as we minister to them as Jesus did and would – in love. May it be so, bringing honor and glory to God.


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Presence, Rest

Reading: Exodus 33:14

Verse 14: My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.

Today’s passage is one verse long.  It is given to Moses by God to reassure and encourage him.  It is a good promise for us to remember as well.

God’s presence goes with us in so many ways.  I think it begins with the situations and people that God brings into our lives.  These are both opportunities to share God with others and to experience God through others.  Sometimes in our lives we have the blessing of ministering to others and at other times we are ministered to.  When we respond to these opportunities, when we are open to the moving of the Holy Spirit in our lives, surely God’s presence is with us.

A few days ago I felt a nudge to go visit a friend who had experienced a very difficult loss.  I was going to be traveling through her state so I asked if we could have coffee.  As I drove yesterday, the Spirit was at work and the Lord placed upon my heart what I needed to share.  I was able to do that and it was a wonderful experience of being able to share God’s presence and love with a fellow child of God.

The second half of today’s verse is such a blessing too when we can get there.  Life does not get much better than when we can find that sweet spot of rest – whether in the recliner, out on the deck, on the couch in the afternoon sun, in the qiuet of the early morning.  But it can be so elusive!  Life is usually so busy and we go at such a non-stop pace that periods of rest can be hard to find.

One of the most restful times of the day can be our times of prayer and study.  If one is willing to carve out 15, 30, or even 60 minutes each day to spend time with God, then He will be both present and He will bring you rest.  In those quiet, still moments spent talking with God, He fills you with peace and rest for your mind and soul.  God renews your spirit.  Taking time to read and meditate on God’s Word is both nourishment and peace for the heart, mind, and soul.  He is surely present and certainly fills us up!

Lord God, may I dwell in your presence today and maybe honor you in all I do and say today.  May your Spirit grant me rest.  Amen.


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#1 Tradition

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-28

Verse 18: The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’.

Every year for Christmas my family gathers after church on Christmas Eve and we open one present.  The present is always the same: new pajamas.  For Thanksgiving every year we always have green bean casserole and chocolate chess pie.  It feels like we have been doing these things forever.

Our churches also have traditions.  Most churches do.  In today’s passage, Jesus is addressing one of these traditions.  It began like many of our church traditions did and has become almost law by this point.  One day long ago someone started something and soon enough it became tradition.  For the Pharisees that Jesus is addressing, these traditions were very important.  Many of their traditions or laws were based on generations of interpretations of the Bible.  Much of it therefore had come not necessarily straight from God but from man’s interpretation of the Word.  A good, modern day example would be baptism.  In the Bible we do have some examples of baptisms and some understandings of what it means and why one is baptized.  But there is no place in the Bible where it defines exactly how and when a baptism should occur.  Yet this topic causes division and differences and barriers between us.  The same can be said of communion.  I think this makes Jesus sad.

In today’s passage Jesus is dealing with a rule that creates a barrier.  Many of the religious traditions or laws created barriers to people because they kept people away from God.  Ritualistic and detailed handwashing became the rule for the Pharisees.  Eat without perfectly pristine hands and you know what happens…  But Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean'”.  He is saying that what is in a person’s heart is what makes them spiritually clean or unclean, not the condition of their hands.  If evil resides in our hearts, then we are unclean spiritually.  If good resides, then we are clean.  To Jesus, a person’s heart is what mattered.

Jesus’ most important question is: “Do you love me”?  For Jesus love was always the guide and the first consideration.  That’s why He ate with unclean sinners and why he healed on the Sabbath.  Love triumphed.  Faith is not about the tradition or the laws or the unwritten rules.  It is about letting love lead and serving and ministering to others in love.

What traditions or ‘rules’ create barriers in our churches?  How do we make love the #1 tradition or the rule?


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Follow Well

Reading: John 9: 24-42

Verse 27b – Do you want to be His disciples, too?

Jesus has done something extraordinary for this man who was born blind.  This man who would have been shunned in the temple or synagogue because of assumed sin in his life or past is touched and healed by Jesus.  He experiences a radical change in his life because of Jesus’ radical love.  He is so moved that he is willing to challenge the religious authorities with an audacious question to their ears: “Do you want to be His disciples, too”?  In response, they hurl insults at him and throw him out.  Even after this negative experience with religion and the synagogue, the man in undeterred in his newfound faith.  In a second encounter with Jesus, he declares his belief and worships Jesus.  It is a second act of radical love by Jesus to seek out and offer welcome to this man who was rejected by the religious leaders.

This story makes me think of the church today, of churches I have been a part of, and of the church I am at today.  I often wrestle with the idea of just how big our circle of welcome really is – just who all would we genuinely welcome.  It makes me think back to Jesus – the One we follow – and how Jesus loved all He met.  He never said, “Come back when you are free from sin”, or “Come back when you are just like us”, or “Come back when you…”.  Jesus met them where they were at, ministered to their needs at that moment, and loved them with all of His being.  This is the One we follow.

People today are touched by Jesus all the time.  They encounter the love of Christ in a radical way and wander into our churches seeking fellowship and belonging and a chance to explore this newfound faith with followers of Jesus Christ.  When they walk through our doors do they all experience genuine welcome and more of the love of Christ?  But what if they are a little rough around the edges or if we know their past or if they are new to this church thing or if…  There should be no “if” to enter, to be truly welcome, to belong in our churches.  There were “ifs” in the synagogue for the blind man and there still are in the church today.  We must be very cognizant of our tendency to limit access, to judge, to stereotype, … and be true followers of Jesus Christ – ones who meet all right where they are at, who minister to them right then and there, and who love on them like they have always been a part of our churches.  Then the love of Christ will grow.  May we follow well the One who loves all.


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Faithful to Minister

Reading: Acts 16: 13-15

When Paul and company arrive in Philippi, they go down to the river because they think it may be a place to pray.  The city has no synagogue or church.  They find some women there praying and they strike up a conversation with them.  God is continuing to guide and lead Paul as he continues to work to spread the gospel.

It turns out these women are praying to God, so they are open to hearing Paul’s witness about Jesus.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul’s words hit home in one of the women’s hearts.  Lydia and her household believe and are baptized into Christ.  This encounter leads her to open her home to these traveling evangelists.  Lydia provides the base of operations from which Paul and companions can continue to share the gospel.

Each day of our lives God and the Holy Spirit lead us to opportunities to share our faith in Jesus Christ with others.  Every day.  It may be that our faithful witness comes simply through how we live our lives.  Those around us experience Jesus simply by being in our company.  At other times we are called to verbally witness to our faith.  One of those who have been observing may finally ask by we are so loving, caring, compassionate…  Or maybe one is finally open to the conversation we have tried to start a few times and God leads us in the witnessing to our faith.

There are many people searching for meaning in and a center for their lives.  God is the only one who can truly fill these needs in us and only He can bring true contentment, peace, understanding, …  Paul’s vision was of a man calling him to Macedonia.  When he arrived, God placed Lydia before him.  Paul was faithful to minister to who God placed before him.  May we too be willing to minister to whomever God places before us and to witness to our faith to any and all that God brings our way.