pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Deeper

Reading: 1st Samuel 16: 1-13

Verse 7: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart“.

In today’s passage, David is anointed to be the next king of Israel. At the time, Saul is the king. He is in good health and will remain the king for some time. David is going to learn and grow and mature before stepping into this role that God has selected him for. It is a process. The process will be guided by God. In verse thirteen we read, “from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David”. From God’s perspective this all made sense. After all, it is his plan.

From the human perspective, it was confusing at best. Once the hurdles were all crossed and Samuel is present with Jesse and most of his family, the parade of prospects begins. One by one Jesse’s sons pass before Samuel, horn of oil at the ready. The oldest son is Eliab. Seeing him Samuel immediately thinks he is the one. Eliab must have been tall and handsome, muscular and refined. But God tells Samuel “no”. I imagine the horn of oil dropped a little bit just then, going further and further down as each son passes by, until at last it dangles by his side.

We too can fall into the trap that Samuel and Jesse and probably all the elders and sons fell into. We too judge by appearance. The appearance may be physical, it may be based on the college they attended, it may be by the car they drive or the home they occupy, it may be by the title that hangs outside their office door, it may be by the position they play on the team. These would be valid tools for judgment if all that mattered was their drive to get to the top. Sadly, though, when we judge by what we can first see, then we often fail to go any deeper. Too often that first judgment prevents us from going deeper and prevents us from seeing who and what someone really is. God had a word for us today when this is our first tendency: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart“.

Tying this thought into the model set by the one we follow, we see what this good word from God looks like lived out in the world. Jesus never ever stopped at tax collector or Samaritan or woman or leper or prostitute or blind or possessed or… Jesus always pressed deeper, developing a relationship that went far beyond some surface-level label. Going deeper, the labels always fell away. May we too strive to go deeper, to go way past labels and first appearances. May we too strive to get to know the heart of each we meet, for there we begin to see as God sees. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, help me to practice you counter-cultural and counter-intuitive love today. Help me to see those needs that you place before me and to fill them with your love. Amen.


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On the Fringes

Reading: John 4: 27-42

Verse 35: “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for the harvest”.

When was the last time you met someone like the woman at the well? When was the last time you had a conversation with someone who was not like you, who was outside of your normal circles of friends and acquaintances, who was not among the popular and accepted folks in the community? Every community has them. It may be only one or two who live outside the norms of society. It may be thousands who live on the fringes in your community.

In verses 5-26 of John 4, Jesus made the choice to engage one of these people. He stepped over many barriers to draw in this woman at the well, to help her find the living water that only he can give. The disciples return just as the conversation between Jesus and the woman ends. They have been in town getting food. In response to their offer of physical food, Jesus speaks instead of the spiritual food he has to offer.

Some of the people we might meet on the fringes are in need of physical food. Some on the fringes are in need of a place to belong, to feel loved. Some are in need of support and guidance and direction in life. Some on the fringes have other basic needs – heating fuel, gas to get to work, clothes for the kids. Before we can begin to have the spiritual conversations with someone on the fringes we must cross a barrier or three and we must help them cross barriers as well to find a place of trust and security and honesty. Jesus models this well in the story we read in John 4.

Jesus also acknowledges that we all play a role. In verse 37 he says, “One sows and another reaps”. We may be like Jesus was with the woman at the well – beginning the conversation and following it through to a profession of faith. But most of the time we are just one step in the process of someone becoming a follower of Jesus.

In our passage today, Jesus encourages the disciples and us to be a step in the process. In verse 35 Jesus tells us, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for the harvest”. These words are just as true today as the day he spoke them. Some people are curious. Some are hurting. Some are angry. Some are alone. Some are grieving. Many are on the fringes and want to come into community. Open your eyes and look. The fields are ripe. Go forth to be the love of Jesus to one in need of connection.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see those in need. Help me to live well – to foster a deep love for the marginalized and others with needs. Open my eyes and my heart, O God. Amen.


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Drawing In

Reading: John 4: 5-26

Verse 9: “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”?

The conversation in today’s passage is refreshing. Two people who do not previously know each other have an open and honest conversation. Wouldn’t it be nice if people who know each other could have at least this open and honest of a conversation? Let’s see how that may be possible.

The conversation we read in John 4 is honest and allows space for the other to speak and be heard. The woman is coming to the well alone in the sixth hour, which would be noon for us. All the other women came as a group in the early morning, in the cool of the day. As they came, drew water, and returned to the village they would have talked and caught up with one another. The woman at the well is alone and is isolated in her own community. After Jesus asks her for a drink, she replies, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”? Jesus is attempting to cross a few barriers here in order to enter into a conversation. She points out both the Jew-Samaritan and the male-female barriers. He continues the conversation, crossing the barrier of isolation. Jesus chooses to engage someone that most others ignore or avoid. In spite of the initial barriers that she tries to put up, Jesus continues to try and connect with her. Jesus offers her the “living water” and she reminds him that Jacob drank from this well and gave it to the Samaritans. The Samaritan connection to Jacob is their claim to equality with the Jews. She is testing Jesus – will he bite and allow the conversation to be derailed? No, he continues to offer her the water that leads to eternal life. You see, the gift of eternal life is much more important than any earthly defined barrier or difference. How can we model this belief in our efforts to share Jesus with others?

In verses sixteen through eighteen Jesus identifies the thing that keeps her on the fringes of society, outside of community. He does name it but there is no judgment, no taking of moral high ground. She falls back into the Jew-Samaritan barrier in verse twenty, but again Jesus persists, opening her eyes to see how God is working to break down worship and religious barriers, revealing a time when all believers will worship together in spirit and truth. Jesus is again leaning into the eternal. The woman at the well is beginning to sense what Jesus offers, connecting to the day when the Messiah will come. The conversation ends for now with Jesus claiming, “I am he”. Drawn in, the woman will soon draw others in.

This is the pattern of discipleship – sharing faith in Jesus with one person at a time. May we practice this model today.

Prayer: Father God, lead me past any barriers my earthly eyes may see at first. Open my heart and mind to the guiding of your Holy Spirit as I seek to share Jesus with others today. Amen.


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Compassion and Love

Reading: Luke 13: 14-17

Verse 16: “Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham… be set free… from what bound her”?

Jesus heals on the Sabbath, elevating this woman’s need over keeping the law. Compassion and love lead Jesus to action. This “work” on the Sabbath makes the synagogue leader “indignant”. One definition of this word is: “feeling or showing anger because of something unjust or unworthy” (Merriam-Webster). From our viewpoint, healing the woman is neither unjust or unworthy. The leader paraphrases one of the Ten Commandments, basically saying to come be healed on the other six days.

Jesus addresses the leader’s indignant heart. He begins by reminding all there that they care for their animals on the Sabbath, meeting their basic needs. He then extends the idea to someone much more worthy of care: the woman. Jesus says to all there: “Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham… be set free… from what bound her”? If you care for your ox or donkey on the Sabbath, how much more should you care for a child of God? The religious leaders are shamed, as they should be. Jesus’ point is obvious. The crowd recognizes this, expressing delight in Jesus’ actions. In our hearts, we too cheer for Jesus.

The Sabbath was a day set aside to worship God and to renew the body. The woman was able to do both because Jesus reached out to her. Sometimes in our worship we too are led to deeper love and compassion. Perhaps the message or the scripture or a song or prayer time may trigger action in you. Maybe a “least of these”, like the woman, will be placed on your heart by the Holy Spirit. If so, may you practice love and compassion today, helping another closer to God this day.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your story of love and compassion today. Help me to see beyond the surface today and to engage those who need healing and wholeness. Amen.


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See and Engage

Reading: Luke 13: 10-13

Verse 12: “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity'”.

Perhaps you know someone like this woman. They are limited by some ailment – at least from most people’s perspectives. Like this woman, they mostly live on the fringes of society. She would have been unable to work and would have relied on family or the kindness of others. To some this is a burden, pushing her closer to the fringe. The common understanding is that she is crippled by a spirit – another reason to avoid her. To many on the periphery of her life, she would have long ago blended in. Those in the synagogue probably don’t notice her coming and going most days. Today there are people just like this woman.

Over the years I have helped lead a few high school mission trips. Without fail we meet people like this woman. Their ailment might be physical, like hers. But more often than not it is emotional. They might have a mental illness or a traumatic experience has impacted them. Once in a while the person is simply very different and this creates the barrier. There is also something that happens without fail. A youth or a group of youth will come back from a day of serving and will share that “that guy” or “that woman” is a really neat person or that they have a really cool life story. Almost all of the time they shift to calling them by name part way through the retelling and that almost always ends with some version of a “he/she is just like us” statement.

In order for all that to happen, at least two things must occur. First, the youth(s) must be willing to see the other. Second, they must be willing to engage the other. This is what Jesus did in our story. In verse twelve we read, “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity'”. He saw her come in. He chose to engage her. She was absolutely worthy of his time and attention. The barriers that others saw and the Sabbath day barrier did not stop Jesus. He ministered to her that day. Her life was forever changed. On mission trips or whenever we engage those like the woman, we do not heal them. But we do introduce them to the idea that Jesus can.

Today, who will you truly see and engage that others avoid or do not notice?

Prayer: Lord, continue to give me eyes to see the other and a heart to engage them. Lead and guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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A Woman and a Foreigner

Reading: Ruth 4: 13-16

Verse 15: “For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth”.

Our nice story continues. The woman who left her homeland to be with her mother-in-law has found a husband. Ruth and Naomi, the two widows, have found happiness and security. It gets even better as Ruth gives birth to a son. Naomi is a grandmother!

As the women gather around to gawk at the baby and to celebrate with Naomi, they make a profound statement. They note the blessings that Ruth has been and will continue be to Naomi: “For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth”. This is quite the statement. It is quite an acknowledgement to Ruth. Sons were valued much more than daughters. Sons were labor. Sons got the inheritance. Sons carried on the family name and the family business. Women were clearly seen as inferior. Yet these women recognize Ruth as being better than seven sons!

On top of this gender reversal, Ruth is also a foreigner. In a nation that often prohibited foreign wives and who usually viewed themselves as isolationists, Ruth is viewed as a great blessing. Ruth did not bring with her the religion of her youth but has instead become a part of God’s family. The quality of the person far overshadows the normal tendency against outsiders. As our passage concludes, the story gets even better.

The child Ruth bears is a boy. That is good news. But the best news is the lineage. The boy is Obed. His son will be Jesse. One of Jesse’s sons will be a Shepherd named David. David will become Israel’s greatest king for the longest time. Then, generations later, a forever king will be born. From the line of Ruth, the Savior will be born in the city of David. Ruth’s name will be found in the list of Jesus’ relatives. A woman and a foreigner – imagine that!

Lord, thank you for the awesome example of Ruth. She placed love and devotion to another far above her own wants and desires. Help me to be a humble servant each day, loving you and others more than myself. Amen.


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A Wider Circle

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-28

Verse 27: Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.

A woman whose daughter is demon-possessed comes to Jesus seeking healing for her daughter.  She must have heard of the miracles that Jesus was performing and she comes seeking a miracle for her daughter.  But she does not fit into the mold.  She does not check off the boxes of belonging.  She is not of the chosen people.  She is a Gentile.  The man we know as love rejects her.  In our mind’s eye we see a Jesus who always leads with love and who welcomes everyone, even sinners.  Suddenly our vision is a bit blurry.

After ignoring her for a while, she becomes annoying and the disciples ask Jesus to send her away.  His response: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”.  But she does not give up.  She comes and kneels before Jesus, saying, “Lord, help me”!  It is a desperate mother’s cry for healing.  Surely Jesus will show her love and cast out the demon from her daughter.  Nope.  He tells her He will not take the children’s bread and give it to the “dogs”.  Not only ‘no’ but an insult to boot!

In the first half of the passage, we recall Jesus trying to correct the Pharisees for a law that was a barrier keeping people from God.  And now Jesus himself uses a ‘rule’ to keep a woman at a distance, certainly outside of God’s love.  It is a game we are good at too.  If you are not dressed right or if you don’t have membership or if you are of another culture or if…  We also easily erect barriers that keep people out or at least at bay.  In a similar way, we allow differences to become reasons for why we do not go out and engage the lost.  But she does not give up.  She is persistent.

“Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table”.  She says, ok, you can try and reject me and you can insult me, but I still want your help.  It’s hard to say what affected Jesus more – her deep love for her daughter or the faith she had that He could heal her.  He heals her daughter.  And she leaves Jesus changed.  The human Jesus now loves more.  He sees a wider circle.  God’s love is for all people.  Today, may we too look beyond the barriers in our own hearts and may we begin to love a wider circle.


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Extend His Welcome

Reading: John 4: 5-30 & 39-42

Verse 14: Whoever drinks this water I give him will never thirst.

In today’s story, Jesus reaches out to a woman that no other Jew would reach out to.  He speaks to a Samaritan woman who is coming to draw water from Jacob’s well.  Water is essential to life.  Women came to the well each day to draw water, to socialize a bit, to care for their families.  Jesus probably senses there is a reason she comes to the well alone, in the heat of the day.  Perhaps her life and her choices have made her into a person that is not often spoken to by her own people as well.

Even though this is the longest recorded conversation with Jesus in the Bible, He is not out for some polite conversation. For Jesus, there is a point, there is a reason to speak to this outsider.  Jesus sees a lost and broken soul in need of God’s love and grace.  In Romans 5:8, we recall that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”.  In today’s passage, Jesus is living this idea out.  He is allowing the prejudice to die as He reaches out to the Samaritans.  In their conversation, Jesus offers her the ‘living water’ and she shows interest.  There is a spiritual hunger in this woman.  Jesus draws her further in by speaking truth about her life, but He does not allow this to be a barrier either.  There is no judgment, just openness and truth.  He acknowledges who she is and offers her love and grace anyway.  This too is our story with God.  No matter the road we’ve gone down and whatever choices we have made, Jesus’ message to us is the same: come, sit, talk with me, drink of this living water.

The story and invitation does not end here.  Our lesson is not over.  Yes, we see in Jesus’ example the call to reach out to those who are lost, to those who are outsiders.  After all, we are ‘there’ every once in a while ourselves.  And, yes, we too have felt the grace and love of Jesus making us new again.  But let us not look past the woman’s response.  She found healing and went and told others.  She brought others to Jesus so that they too could experience the living water.  She set aside any fears and doubts about being an outsider in her own village and invited all to come and know Jesus.  This too is our call.  May we each set aside any barriers and boldly share our Jesus, the source of living water, with all we cross paths with today.  May we each extend Jesus’ welcome to all.


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Unwanted Guest

Reading: Luke 7:36 – 8:3

The woman in today’s story is a bit of an unwanted guest.  She is well-known as a sinner, as one who is unclean.  Sins against God were also seen as social sins, so she is one who would have been shunned by any good Jew.  It is curious that she was even allowed in the house.

The Pharisee in the story is officially the host.  He has invited Jesus into his home for a meal.  However, as the story reveals, he is apparently not a very good host.  It was customary to do certain things to welcome a guest.  Most basic was the washing of the feet.  In the dry and dusty climate the cleansing of the feet was a needed and refreshing act of service.  It symbolized the acceptance of the guest.  By not washing Jesus’ feet, the Pharisee left a barrier up between them.

The woman must have sensed something powerful in Jesus’ presence.  She stood silently behind Him and began to weep.  Grace and love must have been working on her heart.  As she cried, her tears wet Jesus’ feet.  Sensing Jesus’ welcome of her presence, she knelt and began wiping His wet feet with her hair, taking on the physical grime and dirt as she cleaned His feet.  In a final act of loving service, she anointed His feet with perfume.  The sin that so encompassed her life must have been falling away too.  His love was overcoming much.

As the Pharisee is mentally recoiling at this obvious sinner touching Jesus, Jesus confronts him.  He uses a simple story on debt forgiveness to illustrate why the woman cries so – she is joyful over the love and grace and mercy that Jesus is giving her.  God’s love is not limited to the saved, but is offered most generously to the sinner, the one most in need.  Much joy comes when one repents, turns from sin, and knows forgiveness.  Through extravagant love given and received, this woman was made whole again and new in Christ.  In our encounters with the lost, with the sinners, and with the unwanted guests, may we too offer the extravagant love of Jesus Christ.