pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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For Us

Reading: Mark 9: 38-41

Verse 40: “For whoever is not against us is for us”.

Who is in? Who is out? What do I have to do to be a part of this group or organization? What are the rules?

These are the questions we ask. We prefer rule and order. We like to be around people who are like us, people who have similar interests and hobbies, people who see the world as we see the world. It is even the way of the natural world. Lions hang out with lions, chickadees with chickadees.

In today’s passage, John asks Jesus about a man they do not know. This man was driving out demons in Jesus’ name. The disciples initial reaction was to tell the man to stop because he is not one of them. Who could walk into the church tomorrow morning and draw a similar reaction?

John is struggling with the opening questions that I posed today. This man is out, he is not part of their group, he is not following all the right rules. To John, one must be part of the group that follows Jesus 24-7. If you do not follow this rule, you better not be doing miracles in Jesus’ name. Jesus does not see it this way. Not even close. Jesus says to John and the disciples, “Whoever is not against us is for us”. Here we see Jesus once again being inclusive instead of exclusive.

If Jesus were the pastor left in our church tomorrow and “that” person or persons walked in, He would welcome them, introduce himself, help them to find a good seat, and would make sure they got coffee and cookies after church. He sees this man driving out demons as being for the kingdom. He wants His disciples to see people this way too. If you are not against us you are for us. For Jesus, all are welcome in the kingdom, all are invited. May we see all people this way too.

Lord, help me to be inclusive and welcoming and open to all people. When my heart or mind begins to erect barriers, smash them down. Give me eyes to see as Jesus saw and a heart to love as He loved. Amen.


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Walk the Path in Trust

Reading: Romans 8: 12-14

Verse Fourteen: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons [and daughters] of God”.

Paul writes of the choice we have in life: follow the sinful nature and die or follow the Spirit of God and live. It sounds simple. It sounds black and white. It sounds like either/or. In reality, it is difficult, it is grey, it is both/and. This battle of good and evil is a perpetual battle. But take hope, Jesus has overcome the world.

If you were to find the straighest, longest road in your town or city and were to attempt to drive right down the middle, you would ultimately fail. You see the path before you and you may begin exactly in the middle, but soon enough you steer a little to the left and a bit later a little to the right. You might even cross over the line on the side and hit those little vrrp-vrrp strips that remind you that you are drifting.

Such is our walk of faith. We can see the path set out before us by Jesus. We can see that the way is hard and narrow. Our intent is to fully walk right down the middle – right in Jesus’ footsteps. But at times we find His stride outpaces ours or that His footprints are just too big for us in that moment. Other times we are looking around and our focus drifts to other things. We look back to the narrow way and it is over there. Whether we fall behind or can’t quite bring ourselves to what the Spirit is calling us to or whether we get off track, when we look back to the path there is Jesus, holding out His hand, beckoning us back.

If you are seeking the path, Jesus calls out, saying, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden”. If you are trying to walk the path, but the road is hard, take hope. You do not walk alone, trust in the Holy Spirit. From experience, it does get easier but it never becomess easy. But with God all things are possible. Trust in the Lord, seek to walk in His ways, and allow the Holy Spirit to lead. You will come to walk in God’s love and grace and peace. May it be so today. Amen.


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Refuge

Reading: Psalm 62: 5-8

Verse Eight: “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge”.

The psalmist is secure in God. The opening line of our passage today reads, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone”. There is a place of comfort and peace that the psalmist knows in God’s presence. This is likely found for him when he enters into a time of prayer. It is in the purposeful connecting with God through prayer that I have felt a sense of peace and comfort come over me as God has become my refuge.

The psalmist describes God in many ways, each embodying how God has been a refuge for him. He begins with how God has become his hope and adds that God has also become his rock and salvation. He then says that God is his fortress – one that cannot be shaken. This imagery provides us a glimpse into God as our eternal refuge as well as our refuge in times of trial and trouble here in this life. Because God is our ever- present help, the psalmist encourages us to, “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge”. When we trust God in this way, He is indeed our refuge. Then the circumstances in our lives become less as our hope begins to trust and rest in the eternal.

Once we begin to see our lives as resting on the hope and rock of our eternal salvation in God, then we are able to share our hope, our fortress, our rock, our peace with others. When God is our source for all of these things, then we can begin to extend them to others. By visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, consoling the broken-hearted, welcoming the stranger, … we offer God to others. Through sharing our experiences when God has been these things for us, others can begin to see and feel how God can be these things for them as well. This begins them on a journey to a relationship with God. They too can begin to trust in God as our God becomes their God, their rock, their fortress, their hope, their rest, their salvation. God is a refuge for all people. May we help others to know God in these ways today.


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Diverse and Inclusive

Reading: Revelation 7: 9-17

Verse Nine: There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language.

The opening verse for our passage today again paints a beautiful picture of heaven.  It is the heaven that each who call on the name of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will inherit.  Verse 9 reads, “There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language”.  It is a vast crowd, one so large that it cannot be counted.  It is a very diverse crowd, just as God desires.  This gathering that represents wonderful diversity and open inclusion draws people from all walks of life and from all corners of the globe.  It is the result of the Great Commission.

If this is what heaven will be and look like, is this what our churches and our circle of friends should be and look like?  Absolutely.  Most churches think they are welcoming and open and, indeed, most are.  Most people think of themselves as caring and loving and friendly people, and most of us are.  But being welcoming and caring and loving and friendly doesn’t necessarily include or draw in those who are the least and the lost of our communities and our neighborhoods.

Our church is like most.  There are two main tribes of people in our community, but only one tribe is represented in our church.  There are rich and poor and people in between in our community, but not many who are struggling economically call our church home.  These two examples are but two of the many who are missing from our body of Christ.  A snapshot of worship on a Sunday morning would reveal that we are very homogeneous.  Our community is not.  Our question may be asked at many other churches as well: how do we become more wonderfully diverse and openly inclusive?

It begins by getting to know those in our community who are not present in our churches.  We then must shift to being continually invitational with those we meet and get to know.  As Christians, we must be invitational, inviting others into Jesus’ love.  Then we must be willing to offer radical hospitality.  It is the hospitality practiced by Jesus.  It is the live modeled by Jesus.  It is the love of a humble servant, willing to give of oneself for the other.  It is a love that seeks to make people’s lives better – spiritually, emotionally, economically, socially,…  It is a love that engages people from all walks of life and from every neighborhood in our communitied.  May this be the love that is in us and is in our churches.  May this be the love that flows out of each of us and out of all of our churches.


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Open, Loving, Welcoming

Reading: Revelation 1: 4-8

At times our churches and faith can be private or exclusive is one is not already a member.  Sometimes we do this by using insider language or by expecting guests or seekers to know how we do things or to look and behave just like we do.  Although most churches genuinely work at and desire to be welcoming and inviting, sometimes we are not.  In the same way, most Christians know Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations; we just do not live with this as our primary focus.  We inadvertently put up barriers or fences that in essence keep non-believers and the unchurched outside of our institutions.  On a personal level, we can judge or choose to keep separate from those we see as sinners and unsaved.

If we are truly living as a witness to the love of Christ, we will seek to be more inclusive and inviting and will work to be less judgmental and isolated.  Jesus’ radar was always on.  He was so sensitive to the needs He sensed in people.  Jesus did not allow social or cultural or any other norms to tell Him how to deal with someone.  He simply recognized what they needed and what He could offer and acted accordingly.  Jesus seemed to be friend to all as relationship was the basis of His ministry.  The forming of a relationship so often allowed Him to share Himself to meet their need.

Just as Jesus sought first and foremost to be welcoming and to quickly enter into relationships, so must we as His disciples and as His church.  People need Jesus, not our religion or our churches.  He is who or what we offer.  It is through faith and in the church that people come to know Jesus.  We all need to know His love and the saving grace offered by His blood.  To begin to know Jesus, one must experience Jesus in the love and witness of His followers.  This is what we have to offer.

As believers and followers of Jesus Christ, we are privileged to live in His love as we enjoy a personal relationship with the savior of the world.  This relationship is something we are called to share with others.  Our opportunity may come within the walls of the church; it may come out there in the world.  May we be as open, loving, and welcoming as Jesus was as we seek to live as His witness in and through our lives.


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Engaging Systems

Our sins are not always the things we do.  Sometimes they are the things we fail to do.  Our sins are not always personal; sometimes they are communal or corporate.

About once a month we have a homeless person come to church on  Sunday.  Sometimes it is some other individual who is noticeable because they are different from the regular worshiper.  As the people of God we are called to love all people and as a whole we really do well at this.  But not always.  Some days we are only as loving or good or welcoming as our weakest or lowest part.  So it is our task as fellow believers to notice these weaker parts and to build them up in love for all people.  We cannot and should not accept less.

As a society there are ills and things that are not ‘right’ in all of our communities.  These are things that certainly cause a tear to roll down God’s cheek.  As the people of God we are called to address the issues in our communities.  This does not mean simply jumping on the latest Facebook bandwagon and adding your ‘like’.  It means being on the streets and in the shelters and in the jails.  It means going to the places where the least, the lost, and the broken are and entering into relationships with them.

To truly be the people of God and to really love all of our neighbors, we must roll up our sleeves and get a little dirty.  We must truly walk alongside those in need to begin to see things at a systemic level.  It is at this level that we must begin change.  To end prejudice, injustice, and hate we must begin with fixing the systems that cause these evils.  As Christians we must engage the evils of the world.  We are called to be the light in the darkness.  Our light needs to shine into these dark places to begin real change at the base level.

Scripture reference: Psalm 51: 1-12