pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Radical Love

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Verse 7: “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

The Servant faced scorn and suffering without retaliation or violence because God was with him. The Servant was able to go beyond the abuse as well. To the abuser the Servant willingly offered himself for more abuse. In doing so, the abuser will be led to question their own actions. It is love in the face of hate, giving in the face of taking. Jesus did the same over and over. For Jesus, it was summed up in His encouragements to love our enemies and to offer your other cheek to the one who has just struck you. Jesus also lived this out. At the end, from the cross, Jesus prayed for forgiveness for those who placed Him on the cross. Through God’s presence, Jesus was able to extend love instead of retaliating with hate. Like the Servant, Jesus lived out Isaiah 50:7 – “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

This idea is so counter to what the world teaches and does. It us a radical love that makes the world take notice. In the world, it is not just get even but get ahead. It is done with emphasis to discourage another run at one’s money or status or position or popularity. It is power used to remind the other of who really has the power. It perpetuates the imbalance. But Jesus’ radical love offers even more than the one wants to take. When someone demands the shirt off of your back, Jesus asks us to give them our coat as well. It is a willingness to give more than is demanded.

Isaiah and the example Jesus set are calling us to look for opportunities to show love in unexpected ways. Returning from school one year I was in a drive through at a fast food restaurant. The line was long and moving really, really slow. In the other lane I noticed a woman who was clearly becoming more and more aggravated with the situation. She was pounding the dashboard and the steering wheel. She was yelling at the air in her car. I could feel her exasperation. When I got to the window I paid for her order. It was just a random act of kindness that I hope improved her day just a bit. It was small. But it is what we are called to do – to look for and to respond to others in and with love. May we all be blessed with opportunities to offer Jesus’ radical love today.

Prayer: Lord, grant me eyes to see and a heart to feel. Allow me the words to speak and the hands to serve today. If I find myself suffering, may I trust fully in your presence with me. Amen.

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Love in Word and Deed

Reading: Luke 6: 27-31

Verses 27-28: “Love your enemies, do good… bless… pray for those who mistreat you”.

The world into which Jesus speaks is a world ruled by the Roman Empire. There is peace but it is peace bought with the sword and violence. For Jesus’ audience, they would be living a controlled, limited life. The Romans controlled them, allowing a little religious freedom, but little else. Heavy taxation was the main burden. Individuals who refused to follow the rules or who rebelled or spoke out were quickly made an example of. Crucifixion was the Roman’s choice for dealing with dissenters – it was painful and gruesome and it was a visible punishment and deterrent. Jesus Himself would suffer this death. Even so, Jesus was all about love.

Today’s passage speaks into this environment. To start, Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good… bless… pray for those who mistreat you”. The Romans would have come quickly to mind, followed by others who have aligned themselves with those in authority for personal gain. To think of such as these and to think of loving, blessing, and praying for them would have seemed quite radical. It was. Jesus’ kingdom of love is not of this world. It does not make sense to the people of the world and at times it is very hard for His followers to live out.

When we are able to love or bless or pray for those who hate us, it can make a big impact both on us and on them. It changes the dynamics of the relationship and how we see each other. Love has a great deal of power.

To put that love into action can be even more powerful. This is what Jesus is talking about in verses 29 and 30 – giving, giving, giving. Love must be both words and actions. It is easy to say we love our enemies. It is the next level to actually practice it.

Our passage today closes with a version of the golden rule: “do to others as you would have them do to you”. Easy to practice with our family or friends (most of the time), but harder to do with the one who just abused or mistreated or took advantage of you. Tomorrow we dive into this idea more. For today, may we love all with both our words and our deeds.

Prayer: Lord, may I love all the same, no matter who I cross paths with today. Whether my best friend or my wife or someone I do not get along with, help me to love all with your love today. 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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God’s Good

Reading: Psalm 125

Verse 4: “Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, to those who are upright”.

For the psalmist and his contemporaries, trusting in God and doing what God said to do was how life was to be lived. A hop, skip, and a jump to the west or south or north and religion was what one must do to please Baal or some other god. Even today, as we scan the world, we find that religion is still essentially these two components: worship God or a god or gods and live a good life to gain an improved state in the next life. Naturally there is conflict between those who seek to worship their god and to do what is right according to that god and those who do not. All religions have an “us” and “them” mentality to some degree. In Judaism, you were one of the chosen people or you were not. In Christianity, either you are saved or you are not.

Psalm 125 clearly paints this picture. Trust in God and you will not be shaken. God surrounds His people. God banishes evildoers. In the context of this Psalm, the Jews were a closed group. They practiced circumcision as a physical sign of belonging to God. Either you were or you weren’t. The Law kept the Jews from mixing with others. Verse 4 fits right in: “Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, to those who are upright”. Follow God and be blessed. Sin and be cursed was the flip side of this.

And then came this radical evangelist and his followers who shared a message that God loves all people. They took the idea that God was the omnipotent and omnipresent creator of all and applied God’s love in this way – to all people and to all situations. They acknowledged that we are all sinners. And then the leader, Jesus, gave His own life as the perfect sacrifice for all sins. He who was without sin, God’s own Son, gave His life to atone for all sin. Once and forevermore. Jesus defeated the power of death and rose to be the first of many to experience God’s grace. Grace – this purely Christian manifestation and experience of God’s love – says “I love you” over and over, to all people in all situations. Oh yes, God is good. God pours out grace upon grace freely. There is no condemnation, there is no punishment, there is no banishment.

Thank you God for your good grace – a grace that allows us to be forgiven and to walk upright in a continuing relationship with you. Thank you God for your goodness and your love. May both be evident in our lives. May both overflow from us so that all may come to know your love and grace. Amen.


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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.