pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.