pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Radical and Generous

Reading: Genesis 18: 1-15

Verses Four and Five: Let a little water be brought… let me get you something to eat.

Abraham and Sarah receive three men and they extend gracious welcome to them.  They recognize them as strangers.  Abraham first requests that these three men stay for a while.  To help them in their decision, he offers, “Let a little water be brought… let me get you something to eat”.  In showing good hospitality, Abraham offers them a way to clean off the dust of their journey and a way to refresh themselves.  They prepare bread and meat for their guests, sharing abundantly with these three guests.  It is an illustration of generous hospitality.  The men stay and in the end bless Abraham and Sarah with the promise of a child, even though they are very old.

Often we too have the opportunity to offer welcome to the stranger.  On any given Sunday morning they are in our churches.  On any given afternoon we may cross paths with them on the street.  In these encounters at the personal level, do we quickly extend radical and generous hospitality?  Or do we quickly pass them by, instead focusing on our own needs and concerns?

On the national level, the larger struggle with offering radical and generous hospitality swirls around immigrants and refugees.  Most are seeking freedom or a better future, yet many do not receive a warm welcome.  We turn to fear and worse to deny welcome and to keep up a wall between us.  It is a struggle our nation has always had.  Being a place of freedom and the “land of opportunity” has brought millions to our country.  As Christians living here, what should our response be?

Of course, Jesus called us to love neighbor as self.  He illustrated the results of loving or not loving neighbor in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.  He lived the commandment to love others out with all He met so we would have plenty of examples to follow.  The blessing of Isaac was a great blessing to Abraham and Sarah.  For you and I, the stranger also offers great blessings.  It is only when we take the opportunity to engage the other and to offer our love through radical and generous hospitality that we experience the blessings.  This day may we live as He first loved us.


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Extravagant

Reading: John 12: 1-11

Verse 3: She poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair.

Today’s story is one of extravagant love.  Mary is a good friend of Jesus.  Jesus had a special connection to this family from Bethany, to Mary and Martha and Lazarus.  This family appears several times in the Gospels.  In our passage today, Jesus is on His way to celebrate the Passover.  It will be His last stop at Bethany.  Perhaps Mary has a sense of this.  She seems to be aware of much concerning Jesus.  She was the one who sat at Jesus’ feet and she was the one who brought Jesus to tears outside Lazarus’ tomb.

As they are reclining after dinner, Mary shows extravagant care and love for Jesus.  She pours some very expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet.  On the surface, this is perplexing.  Why would someone pour perfume worth a years’ wages on someone’s feet?  These feet will soon be covered in dust and dirt as Jesus makes His way to Jerusalem.  And then she kneels down and dries His feet with her hair.  This is extraordinary.  Jesus gladly accepts her gesture and even defends her for showing such great love.

Mary’s action may seem extreme, but it is just the kind of love the Jesus demonstrates over and over and over.  A son takes his share of his father’s wealth and squanders it away on wild living.  Instead of tossing aside this foolish son, Jesus paints a picture of a father that waits longingly for the son to return and that throws a big party when the prodigal son does come home.  A disciple struggles to forgive another again and Jesus says not to just forgive a few times but to offer forgiveness over and over and over.  One out of a hundred is lost and instead of rejoicing over the 99, Jesus shares the story of the good shepherd searching until he finds the one.  And instead of scolding the one for being lost, he gathers it up in his arms and joyfully carries it home.  Story after story of extreme, radical, extravagant, extraordinary love.  Mary was just following Jesus’ example.  It is how we are called to live out our faith as well.


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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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Christ’s Love

Reading: John 13: 31-35

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another”.  For Jesus, these were not just words.  He lived them out each and every day with the disciples and the stranger alike.  The love Jesus exhibited was not passive; it sought out engagement and connection.  His love was not just for those that loved Him; it was also for those who opposed and persecuted Him and even for those who betrayed and crucified Him.  Jesus’ love was not given out with the expectation of something in return or with a thought of self-promotion; it was given freely, without any strings attached and with absolutely no consideration of self.

How this seems so against human nature!  In our day and age of ” just do it” and living for pleasure in this moment, Jesus’ love is radical and unexpected.  When we share His love with one who is in need, a common question is ‘Why?’. Another is ‘what do you want from me?’. Both are typical of people living in only the world’s culture and not ever experiencing the love of Christ.  When one explains that we are seeking to love others as Jesus first loved us, it is the beginning of understanding or at least questioning.  It is perhaps the beginning of a journey towards Christ.

In our world so filled with sin and evil, being this example of Christ’s love is so important.  For many, the self-pleasing and instant gratification type of love is all that they know.  It is essential that as followers of Jesus Christ, we abundantly offer self-giving and eternity impacting love.  It is a love that draws others into itself.  This day may we seek ways to offer Christ’s love to our world so in need.


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New

Reading: Acts 11: 1-10

This day, may we experience God in a new or unexpected way.  May God break into our ordinary and reveal Himself to us in a way that grows our faith.  May it be through an encounter with Him or through someone who crosses our path this day.

In today’s text, Peter encounters God in a new way that totally changed how He looked at a whole group of people.  It was a radical shift that was made in a relatively short time frame.  Today’s story has two lessons for us as we continue on our faith journey.

First, God is patient.  God did not reveal the vision of the sheet and animals once and then hope Peter understood.  He kept running the vision until Peter understood what God wanted him to know.  We too require God’s patience.  The person God wants us to minister to or to enter a caring relationship with may come to us repeatedly if necessary – maybe in person, maybe through the Spirit bringing them to our mind, maybe through a conversation with another person – until we realize God is at work.  Then we must respond.

Second, God seeks to increase our faith through our experiences.  Peter knew that God loved him and the Jewish people through his life experiences.  Culturally and religiously he had been taught exclusivity in God’s love for humanity.  Through the vision, Peter’s understanding of God’s love  grew greatly.  Peter came to know God’s love as universal and unconditional and unlimited.  He now knew how BIG God’s love is.  We too must come to know this.  Once we understand that God loves all people, then how we seek, look at, interact with, relate to, and love others is radically changed.  May we  see that person or those people today in a new way, through eyes and a heart that reflects the vast and unconditional, unlimited, universal love of God.


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A Love So Great

To live the Christian life is becoming increasingly unique in our society.  All cultures evolve and change over time.  It is natural.  Today we find that the core values of society and Christianity no longer match up as well as they once did.  Currently the pendulum has swung away from ‘religion.’  The prevailing question for us and future Christians is will it swing back towards ‘faith’?

Paul opens his letter to the Ephesians with great words of encouragement.  He reminds them that God chose them as His children long ago.  He reminds them of the grace freely given.  He reminds them of the redemption from sin bought by Christ with His blood.  All of this is true for us as well.

Att times it is hard to live as a Christian in a post-Christian society.  People without faith will question why we choose to not do some things and are puzzled by other things we do.  Not pursuing the things of this world draws curiosity and offering acts of mercy invites questions.  Today it is our uniqueness that causes us to stand out and provides opportunities to share our faith story.

In choosing to live life as a follower of Christ we are choosing to be countercultural.  We are also inviting others into conversation about this radical love we offer as we seek to emulate Jesus.  It is a love so great that it has the power to change the world.  Through His love may we change lives today.

Scripture reference: Ephesians 1: 3-8


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Amazing Love

The psalmist cries out to God and He strengthens him.  The psalmist’s reaction?  Praise.  He is delivered from a time of trial and he exalts God’s love and care for him.  There is an element in the psalm of the writer feeling unworthy of God’s love and attention.

I can relate.  At times God is present and active in my life and it amazes me.  Even at times when I drifted a bit, I can look back and see God’s presence in my life.  He was still right there with me.  As I look back on my seasons of not following Jesus closely, it amazes me that He was faithful then too.

At those times and points I certainly did not deserve His love.  There must have been someone more worthy of it.  Yet God certainly was faithful and steadfast.  For this I too lift up a shout of praise.  For this I am grateful.  For this I am amazed.

This stumbling block of not feeling worthy is not all that uncommon.  I think a good number of people look at themselves and think some version of “not a sinner like me.”  Many can relate to this at point sin their life.  But God’s love and faithfulness are not contingent upon us.  Thank God!  If not, we would all be on the outside looking in.  Yet we are not.  This day may we find one on the outside.  May we share our love and God’s love unconditionally.  Radically.  In a way that makes them stop and think.  May we be a part of another experiencing God’s amazing love this day.

Scripture reference: Psalm 138