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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Bread

Reading: Luke 24: 28-35

Verses 30-31: He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.

Jesus walked and talked with these two men.  Despite their personal time with Jesus and His amazing knowledge of the Scriptures, they did not yet recognize Him.  Many of us have been Christians for a long time.  We know the Scriptured pretty well and we have spent lots of time getting to know Jesus.  Yet at times we too fail to recognize Jesus.

As Jesus sits at the table with these two Emmaus travelers, He takes the most common element at meals in that day: bread.  Bread was both a common element and a precious one – it sustained life.  It was manna in the desert; it was what the widow made for Elijah to survive; and it was what fed the thousands.  Even in our world today, bread is an integral part of many people’s diets.  As food, bread is a necessity for life.

At the table, Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him”.  There is something about this ritual that triggers the opening of the two men’s eyes.  They recognize Jesus as He shares the bread with them.  In the church we too celebrate this practice that Jesus himself initiated.  Every time we break the bread of communion, we remember what Jesus did on the cross and we give thanks for His act that brings us forgiveness and redemption.  In doing so, our eyes are opened.  Our eyes are opened to our brokenness and this leads us to see our own need for Jesus in our lives.  This draws us in and helps us to see Jesus in our midst.

The breaking and sharing of bread can also open us up to see Jesus in other ways.  When we share bread with those in need, whether by inviting them in or by going to them, it allows us to invite Jesus to be there.  Every time we extend welcome to the stranger, regardless of color, ethnicity, or whatever, we​ are opening the door for Jesus to be present.  Through the bread we are able to find common ground and to meet others where they are at.  In these moments, Jesus is always present.  It is an opportunity to share Jesus and sometimes we are even blessed to see Jesus Christ in the face of another.  May we ever have willing hearts to share our bread and the Bread of Life.


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Tears of Joy

Reading: Psalm 137: 1-6

Psalm 137 is also a song of lament.  The Israelites held captive in Babylon are strangers in a foreign land.  They miss Jerusalem, their homes, the temple.  The culture and the ways of the Babylonians are strange and often run counter to the faith in God that the Israelites practice.  On top of all this, the Israelites must endure taunts and torment from the Babylonians.  The Israelites are asked to sing the songs of God – the God who loves and saves them.  How ironic the twist as they live in exile.

We look at the news and see the things going on around us and we too lament.  As followers of Jesus Christ we are often “strangers in a foreign land”.  We miss the good old days when everyone knew God, when the churches were full, and when the name of God drew only respect.  The culture and ways of the world are strange and often run counter to our faith and to God’s ways.  And on top of all this, the calls of hypocrites, elitists, and judgmental ring out from those who stand against God and the church.  We often feel and act small for a people who worship the God of all creation.

Our sadness and tears for our world are much like the years shed by the Israelites.  We shed tears of alienation and rejection.  We too are reminded of our reality that we are in this world but not of it.  Our home is in heaven.  We, however, also shed tears of sadness and empathy.  We see so many who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and we are sad.  This great gift of salvation that we received from God is a gift for all people.  The sadness and empathy that wells up in us and knowing the gift of life that we have leads us out into the world to share Christ’s light and love.  As we bring Christ into the world, as we see others coming to know Christ, our tears will become tears of joy over another won for Christ.  We go forth knowing we serve and love a mighty God.  Thanks be to God.


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Angels

Hebrews 13: 1-8 and 15-16

In Hebrews 13:2 we are reminded, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it”.  Do you think you have ever experienced this?  Could have someone God placed in your path been an angel instead of simply a stranger?  Maybe so.  These thoughts made me wonder why.  Why would God allow us to practice loving a stranger with an angel instead of with a real stranger?  Maybe we were not ready for a real stranger yet.

Or… maybe God is reminding us of the sacred value of all life.  Imagine if we treated all people we met as if they were an angel.  We would certainly be more humble and more willing to go the extra mile.  We would look on others as worthy and even as deserving of our time and attention.  It would be an experience in radical love.

Or maybe God is reminding us because so often God chooses the unlikely, the one we see as powerless, the stranger to teach us.  Sometimes people we tend to ignore or marginalize can teach us much.  If we are willing.  A lifelong hard core criminal who experienced salvation while incarcerated can teach us much about God’s amazing grace.  A person who struggled for years with addiction that found freedom through a relationship with Jesus Christ can teach us much about God’s redeeming love.  A person who endured years of unfair treatment and injustice yet persevered because of their faith can teach us much about trust and obedience.  These are but a few examples.  Those who have had powerful, lifechanging encounters with God have much to offer and teach.

Today, today may we see all people as if they were angels.  May we find the value in each person we meet.  May we see in all the gift of God that they each are.  And may we be willing and open to all that each has to offer to us.


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Living Witness

Reading: Revelation 7: 9-17

It’s pretty easy to look at someone else in the store or in line at the traffic light and to judge if we think they are a Christian or if they are lost.  It becomes even easier to judge one’s eternal destination if we work or go to school with them.  Of course we are all ‘in’ and will one day stand around the throne with other stalwart Christians praising God day and night.  Or will we?

Often in our churches or places of worship we do like to think we have the inside track.  We like to gather with others like us (at least spiritually) to worship and have coffee and cookies with on Sunday mornings.  We get a little uncomfortable when someone who is definitely not one of us comes into our space.  Sure, someone welcomes them – they are good working with those kind of people.  We don’t need to take the time to talk with that ‘guest’ because we will never see them again.  Or will we?

Our passage today gives us a snapshot of heaven.  Gathered around the throne are thousands upon thousands from every tribe, nation, and language.  The great commission calls us to take the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.  That’s far and wide.  While some are out there in far away places, for most of us our mission field is right where we are today.  It is that person in line with us at the store or the one at the next desk over or the seeker who wanders in on a Sunday morning.

We must remember that we are all called to share the good news.  God wants us all to know Him.  We must live and see as Jesus did: without judgement, with no reservations, with no preconceived ideas.  We must meet people where they are at and love them as God loves them.  We are called to be a living witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  May it be so this day.


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He Is with You

Reading: John 20: 19-31

In the hours and days after the crucifixion, the disciples hid in fear.  They gathered together for support, but we’re basically in hiding.  Who could blame them?  One may occasionally slip out but they returned quickly, probably with one eye turned back to see if they were being followed.  If the authorities could so easily strike down the shepherd, what resistance could the sheep really offer?

Fear was real and palpable amongst the disciples.  They had good reason to be hiding behind locked doors.  Then Jesus comes and stands in their midst.  Both times He opens with the same line: “Peace be with you”.  I imagine there was a short pause before He continued to talk.  Jesus could have offered them anything.  He chose peace.  Fear was controlling them and Jesus knew that for them to go on from here, to begin to spread the good news, that their fear must be conquered.

When asked why one did not share their faith or why one could not bring themselves to invite a friend to church or why one decided not to help the one in need before them, the answer is usually the same: fear.  In our minds we may try to rationalize our failure to act with some other excuse.  But when being truly honest, dear is usually the main reason.  So Jesus’ words speak to us too in our weakness, in our fear: peace be with you.  Peace be with you.  Peace.

‘Calm your fears my child, my peace is with you” – step out in trust and invite that hurting friend to church.  ‘Feel my peace washing over you’ – in faith share that burning message in your heart with the one who is seeking.  ‘Sense my peace washing away your fears’ – in the helping of a stranger, Christ is present.  Peace be with you.  Fear not, for He is with you.  Peace be with you.  Peace.


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Where You Go

The famine passes in Judah and Naomi decides to return to her homeland.  She urges Orpah and Ruth to stay in Moab, to remarry, to start life over again.  It is certainly within the realm of possibilities – both are young enough to do so.  To go against Naomi’s wished and to instead move to a foreign land would be a risky and challenging move.  Naomi knows this as she herself made the same type of move just ten years ago.

Often we too are faced with a similar choice – to stay in the comfortable, know place or to step out into uneasiness and the unknown.  It is easy to stay comfortable.  Orpah chooses to stay with her people.  But Ruth decides that she will go.  Her love for Naomi makes her willing to be that stranger in a foreign land.

Where is your ‘foreign land’?  Is it taking the time to sit and have lunch with the homeless person who asked you for $5 for lunch?  Is it going to that part of town to replace the kitchen faucet for a single mother with lots of young children?  Is it going to the jail to visit and share the love of Christ with an inmate?

Ruth said to Naomi: “Where you go, I will go.”  Christ calls us to go to many places where His light is dim and His love is unknown.  But He always goes with us.  May we, like Ruth, say to Christ and live out those same words: Lord, where you go, I will go.

Scripture reference: Ruth 1: 6-18