pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Distinct

Reading: Exodus 33: 12-23

Verse 13: Teach me your ways so I may know you.

Moses represents God’s connection to the people as the spokesperson for both God and the people.  Although they are the “chosen people”, what Moses provides is essential to the relationship.  At this point, the people do not feel a connection to God that allows them to communicate directly with God.  This is done by Moses.  The way we communicate with God through our prayers would seem an impossibility to the Israelites.

The Lord God knows Moses by name.  It is a personal relationship.  Moses has come to know God well enough to be able to negotiate with God, but he wants more.  Moses says to God, “Teach me your ways so I may know you”.  He is saying, in essence, that he wants to know God even more.  God’s response is the promise of His presence with Moses and the people Israel.

Moses’ request should be the request that always lies at the center of our personal relationship with God.  “Teach me your ways” should be our daily goal and our constant aim.  Central to this should be our own daily communication with God.  Each day we should often spend time with God, giving our thanks and praise, seeking His activity in our lives.  A part of the conversation must be listening as well – not just to the Holy Spirit but also for God’s voice in our times of prayer.  We must also spend time daily in His Word – reading, meditating, seeking discernment and direction, growing in our knowledge of His ways.  Lastly, we must live out our faith.  As we interact with others, as we meet the stranger, as we work, as we play – in all things God must shine through.  In all we are and do, we too should hear, “I am pleased with you and I know you by name”.  Just like Moses, we too should have an intimate personal relationship with God.

This relationship made Moses and the Israelites distinct from the rest of the world.  They were set apart.  What makes us as Christians distinctive and set apart for God?  How does our daily living bring God the glory as it draws others closer to Jesus Christ?

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Which Son?

Reading: Matthew 21: 28-32

Verse 28: Son, go and work today in the vineyard.

The priests and elders have just tried to question Jesus about His authority.  In today’s parable Jesus continues the conversation with them.  One son is asked by his father, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard”.  The first son refuses but later goes and works.  The second son hears the same request, says he will go, but does not go and work in the vineyard.

In Luke 10, Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”.  Paired with our commission to go forth to make disciples of all nations, we have much to wrestle with in today’s parable.  Which son are we?

Each Sunday we gather in our churches to lift our voices in praise to God and to remind ourselves of how we are to live in the world as followers of Jesus.  We hear the Word proclaimed and the message brings application of the Word.  We offer up prayers of thanksgiving and we bring our requests as well, believing God to be loving and caring and merciful.  At the end of the service we receive a blessing or benediction that sends us out into the world to share Jesus.  We head out the doors to be His light and love in the world.

Jesus asks the priests and elders, “Which of the two sons did what his father wanted”?  We would answer as they did: “The first”.  The one who actually went out and worked in the vineyard.  It is important that he went out and worked in the vineyard because the harvest is indeed plentiful.

As Christians it is much easier to sing the songs, to pray the prayers, and to receive the message on Sunday morning than it is to go out into the world and to love our neighbors or to welcome the stranger.  It is difficult to love all people, to always offer grace and forgiveness, to be a humble servant.  Yet this is what the Lord of the harvest did every day.  The Father asks each of us to go to the vineyard, to labor today for the kingdom.  In reality, which son will you be today?


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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.