pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Sweep and Scope

Reading: Luke 4: 16-21

Verse 21: “He began by saying, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'”

Photo credit: Gian D.

As we continue in Luke 4, Jesus returns home to Nazareth. On the Sabbath day Jesus went to the synagogue to teach. In his short time in ministry this has already become his habit: teaching on the holy day. As Jesus stands up to read the scroll of Isaiah is brought. Turning to the verses that he wanted to read for that day, Jesus reads two verses. There is great purpose in Jesus’ selection. For his audience that day he is declaring who and what God incarnate is all about and he is preparing them for what is said in the next few verses. For all who will read these words, Jesus is giving a mission statement for all who will seek to follow as disciples.

The Spirit will lead Jesus to do five things: “to preach good news to the poor… to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind… to release the oppressed… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This is a sweeping mission statement. It is intended to be. There is always more to Jesus’ teaching than just what we get on the surface. For those there that day, they would have heard these words as words of liberation from the oppressive Romans and from the oppressive religious leaders. As all eyes were “fastened on him” Jesus says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Smiles all around! But the scope and sweep of the mission is not fully realized quite yet.

Re-read those words again: “to preach good news…” These words make me smile too. It is right and good for people to hear the good news, to be freed from sin and addiction and oppression and injustice, to experience the Lord’s favor. Hooray! Go Jesus! Oh wait. That was almost 2,000 years ago. Here is where the sweep and scope are important. The sweep covers more than the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed of Jesus’ day. “Poor” is not just in terms of economics, “prisoners” are not just those incarcerated… “Poor” as in poverty, yes, but also the poor in spirit, the poor in health, the poor in power, the poor in relationships… The sweep of this statement covers all people everywhere who are in need in any way. That’s how broad the love of God is.

Most of us are still smiling, still cheering on the mission statement in all of its fullness. Now, the scope. This mission statement does not just apply to Jesus and his three years of ministry. Jesus will train the disciples and others how to love God and the world this way. The scope widens. The training and examples of living out the mission will be recorded. The words and actions and example set will be written down so that all who read them will know that they were written as instructions for us too. We become part of the mission of Jesus. Oh.

Who will you or I encounter today that needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ? Who will experience freedom or recovery or release today through our words or actions? Who will come to know the Lord’s favor, grasping the joy of salvation for the first time? In our very soul, with our words and actions, may we too tell others, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Prayer: Lord God, delving down into the scope and sweep of these words, of this Jesus, is challenging, even intimidating. But you don’t call us part way. You call us to be all in. Bring me closer and closer to being fully yours. Day by day, Lord, day by day. Amen.


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Courageous Enough

Reading: Luke 4:14-15

Verse 14: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.”

Photo credit: Jonathan Borba

Fresh off his experience in the wilderness, Jesus begins his public ministry. This wilderness time was a difficult period of fasting and temptation. In Luke 4:2 we read, “for forty days he was tempted by Satan.” What an ordeal to go through. In the end, though, Jesus’ trust in God carried him through. If you or I were to go through such a thing, I bet we too would come out of it “in the power of the Spirit.” Out of each experience where we know God was present and carried us through, we come out “on fire”, wanting to share the good news with others.

As Jesus returns to Galilee with Spirit power resting upon him, he begins to minister to others. We do not know exactly what this early ministry entailed. Was it just teaching? Were there miracles and healings too? Whatever it was, we do know that the word got out about Jesus: “news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.” Whenever Jesus taught in the synagogues, his teaching drew lots of praise. Part of me wonders how much of his preaching was influenced by or even contained examples from his time in the wilderness. It would be a natural way to connect to his audience. After all, we each face trials and temptations.

We too can use our “wilderness” experiences in this same way. While we may emerge from these times “on fire”, we don’t always try to light a flame to others’ faith through our story. Sometimes we don’t see the opportunity. Sometimes we are afraid to be vulnerable – to admit our humanity and weaknesses. Sometimes we think less of our witness than we should. And sometimes we are afraid to surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit. Where will the Spirit lead? Will the Spirit just use and use and use me?

Jesus came out of the wilderness filled with the Spirit. He allowed that power to work in and through him to minister to others. His ministry impacted and changed lives. May we become courageous enough to walk in these footsteps of Jesus. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, I know I have stories of faith to share with others. We all do. Encourage me to be bold enough for my faith. Empower me to follow Jesus’ example, using my walk with you to help others along on their journeys of faith. Amen.


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Courageous Enough

Reading: Luke 4:14-15

Verse 14: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.”

Photo credit: Jonathan Borba

Fresh off his experience in the wilderness, Jesus begins his public ministry. This wilderness time was a difficult period of fasting and temptation. In Luke 4:2 we read, “for forty days he was tempted by Satan.” What an ordeal to go through. In the end, though, Jesus’ trust in God carried him through. If you or I were to go through such a thing, I bet we too would come out of it “in the power of the Spirit.” Out of each experience where we know God was present and carried us through, we come out “on fire”, wanting to share the good news with others.

As Jesus returns to Galilee with Spirit power resting upon him, he begins to minister to others. We do not know exactly what this early ministry entailed. Was it just teaching? Were there miracles and healings too? Whatever it was, we do know that the word got out about Jesus: “news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.” Whenever Jesus taught in the synagogues, his teaching drew lots of praise. Part of me wonders how much of his preaching was influenced by or even contained examples from his time in the wilderness. It would be a natural way to connect to his audience. After all, we each face trials and temptations.

We too can use our “wilderness” experiences in this same way. While we may emerge from these times “on fire”, we don’t always try to light a flame to others’ faith through our story. Sometimes we don’t see the opportunity. Sometimes we are afraid to be vulnerable – to admit our humanity and weaknesses. Sometimes we think less of our witness than we should. And sometimes we are afraid to surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit. Where will the Spirit lead? Will the Spirit just use and use and use me?

Jesus came out of the wilderness filled with the Spirit. He allowed that power to work in and through him to minister to others. His ministry impacted and changed lives. May we become courageous enough to walk in these footsteps of Jesus. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, I know I have stories of faith to share with others. We all do. Encourage me to be bold enough for my faith. Empower me to follow Jesus’ example, using my walk with you to help others along on their journeys of faith. Amen.


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We Too Need to Pray

Reading: Psalm 19

Verse 8: “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.”

David begins Psalm 19 by reminding us how creation reveals the glory of God. From the skies filled with stars to the sun “running its course” like a bridegroom, the movements of creation speak of God’s power and might. In their own ways, all of creation worships God. The natural world reminds us of our right relationship with God.

In verses 7-9 David extols the value of God’s laws. In these verses David describes God’s laws as “perfect… trustworthy… right… radiant… pure… sure.” The outcomes of following God’s laws are “reviving the soul… making wise the simple… giving joy to the heart… giving light to the eyes… enduring forever.” In verse 11 David adds, “By keeping them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” How true. Following God’s ways is good and right. This path benefits our life greatly. But it is not always easy to walk in right relationship with God.

David had his struggles with sin, just as we do. In verses 12-13 he asks for forgiveness for his “hidden faults” and for protection from “willful sins.” The hidden faults would be unintentional sins – like when I hit my finger with a hammer – and sins that are only visible in our hearts – unkind thoughts, jealousy, anger, pride, lust… The willful sins are those sins that come to life: anger that leads to lashing out, jealousy that leads to unkind words. Willful sins are also those that we consider, know we should resist, and give in to anyway: joining the gossip circle, cheating on our taxes. Yes, we too need to pray for forgiveness and for God to be a shield about us. May these be our prayers today.

Prayer: Lord God, I know there is no better way than your way. There is such joy and blessing when I walk in your way. When I slip, when I begin to stray, draw me back onto your path. When I stumble and fall, be quick with your love and mercy and forgiveness. Guide my path, protect my heart and mind. Amen.


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Remember, Live Out

Reading: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Verse 10: “Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing.'”

As we turn to Nehemiah this week we step into the time period where the return from exile has begun. A small group returned and rebuilt the altar and temple. Ezra the priest came next, giving spiritual direction and some encouragement to those who were rebuilding. Nehemiah was then sent by King Artaxerxes to empower and spur on the rebuilding of the walls and gates. Despite opposition from those who had moved into the area during the exile, the walls were rebuilt, bringing security and a sense of peace to the Israelites. In today’s passage the people can now turn their attention to rebuilding their spiritual foundations.

Ezra reads from and explains the Law to the people. The people listened attentively and responded with “Amen”! The word of God was calling the people back into a faithful walk with God. The people wept and mourned. They cried tears of joy and tears of sadness – tears of joy for the hope and love that God was offering, tears of sadness for their time in exile. Joy for what could and should be for God’s people; sadness for what was instead. These themes were often a focus of one of our nation’s recent prophets – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today we recognize and celebrate the life of a great man of God. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of justice and equality, of the hope and joy of truly living into God’s vision for the kingdom here on earth. With this vision in mind, Dr. King worked to end injustice and discrimination, poverty and oppression. These are characteristics of all great men of faith. In our passage today, Nehemiah demonstrates these characteristics. In verse 10 we read, “send some to those who have nothing.” Care for the poor and needy. This was not just a one-time concern because of a verse that Ezra has read that day. Earlier, in chapter 5, Nehemiah puts an end to the wealthy and powerful taking advantage of the poor and needy. It was and is against God’s Law to treat others unjustly. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., and another prophet that we know well, Nehemiah stood for those without voice or power. These men understood God’s vision for all of humanity. They understood that faith,justice, love, equality, hope, and kindness must be the foundations for not only our faith but also for the kingdom of God here on earth. These remain the foundations yet today.

Nehemiah recognized his responsibility to lead with those without in mind. Jesus came and upheld the cause of the downtrodden, the outcast, the marginalized. Today we celebrate a modern prophet who led as these and many others have led, with the love of God as his power and with “the joy of the Lord” as his strength. May we too ever remember and live out our call to solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable, with the outcast and the marginalized.

Prayer: Lord, I am thankful for the reminder today of what your kingdom on earth should look like. Nudge me, prod me, poke me… remind me over and over to act and speak on behalf of those held down, pushed aside, made to feel less than. In and with your love and strength, empower me to be a kingdom builder. Amen.


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Incarnate Love

Reading: John 2:1-11

Verse 1: “A wedding took place at Cana… Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited.”

Photo credit: Paz Arando

Soon after calling his first disciples we find Jesus at a wedding. There must have been a family connection because Jesus’ mother is there too. Some people may find this passage odd or troubling. Maybe it’s the fact that Jesus is at a wedding party; maybe it’s the miracle itself. Yet both of these things point to a Jesus who is present amongst all of life.

A wedding? Jesus and his disciples are guests at a wedding? That would be like a pastor meeting a friend for dinner at a local sports bar. Turning water to wine? This is Jesus’ first miracle? Well, that would almost be like the pastor offering to pray for the waitress who seems to be having a really bad day. Jesus is Jesus everywhere he goes. Jesus meets people where they are at and he ministers to them in that place. He doesn’t let it go with a quick invitation to church. As the presence of Christ in the world, shouldn’t we be the same as Jesus?

Maybe those servants who saw the miracle or those who soon heard about it weren’t devout Jews. Maybe some were Gentiles. Maybe this intervention of faith was the first seed planted. Maybe it’s the first new seed for that friend and the reminder seed for that waitress – to see and experience faith in real life. Small acts of faith can begin to pry open hard hearts. Sharing the love of Christ can begin to warm and draw back in anyone. As we seek to follow in Jesus’ way of love, may we be incarnate love to all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, all were within your circle of love. All you met encountered divine love. Draw my circle wider. Grow my ability to love as you loved. Amen.


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Rich and Beautiful

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12:1-11

Verse 11: “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and the Spirit gives them to each one, just as the Spirit determines.”

We return today to 1st Corinthians 12, where Paul lifts up some of the gifts that the Spirit gives. There are many other gifts or “fruit” of the Spirit – qualities or talents bestowed upon people, all to enhance or further the work of the body of Christ. As I wrote about earlier this week, all gifts were given for the “common good.” At the same time, though, the varieties of gifts can cause division instead of unity.

Division and factions seem to be the order of our day. If you are not on our side or of our opinion or just like us, then you are bad, the enemy, evil. As a people – not just as churches or denominations or even nations, but as a whole – humanity has digressed, regressed, become less than we used to be and certainly less than God designed us to be. Under the banner of individualism we’ve forgotten that we as truly so much better together. Under the hammer of tolerance we have grown blind to the fact that all people (no matter their color, gender, faith, wealth, education, vocation…) are valued and worthy and sacred.

In our homes, churches, and society is a rich and beautiful diversity. It is just as God designed, created, and drew into being: “Through Christ all things were made; without him nothing was made” (John 1:3). Who or what are we to see God’s creation and then to draw lines, barriers, dividers? Whether gifts, service, or activities, “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and the Spirit gives them to each one, just as the Spirit determines.” The Spirit works first in the way of love, leading out as Jesus led out. As followers of this Jesus, may we too use our gifts and talents to build each other up, to draw outsiders in, to let all people know they are loved by God and by those who walk in Jesus’ footsteps.

Prayer: Lord God, first gives me clearer eyes and a heart of love. Then create in me a more committed servant’s heart. Lastly, send me out into the world with a renewed love, using the gifts and talents that your Spirit blessed me with to be love poured out. Amen.


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Your Love, O Lord

Reading: Psalm 36:5-10

Verse 5: “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

As we turn once more to Psalm 36 this week we are reminded today of the scope of God’s love. In verse 5 we join the psalmist in praising God for the love and faithfulness that extends as far as we can imagine. Then we rejoice in God’s righteousness – a righteousness that is stronger than the mightiest thing we know: mountains. And then we celebrate God’s justice – a justice that has more volume than the most vast thing we know: the oceans. God’s love, faithfulness… is not just for us. It extends to “both man and beast”. All of creation “feasts on the abundance” and takes “drink from your river of delight”. The scope is all-encompassing.

In our day we need to not only be reminded of these truths – we also need to practice them. This has always been the case. It is how Christians witness to their faith. In the really early church, when a plague swept through the Roman Empire, it was the Christians who cared for those that families set out in the streets to die. In times of hardship and trial, it continues to be people of faith who show up at their neighbor’s house with food or other needed items. At work or at school, it is faith that leads believers to reach out to someone that is hurting or is alone, bringing comfort, letting them know that they too are loved.

In the closing verse of our passage the psalmist asks God to “continue your love to those who know you.” As we not only remember and rejoice in God’s love, faithfulness… but as we practice it too may we ever be filled with these things so that we can pour them out into the world.

Prayer: Lord God, I know the depth and width of your love for me. I too know that love is for all people. Help me this day to share that love with one who does not know it. Amen.


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The Common Good

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12:1-11

Verse 7: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

Chapter 12 in 1st Corinthians is the beginning of the portion of Paul’s epistle that speaks of unity in the body of Christ. Paul begins by reminding those in the church of who they used to be: “pagans… led astray by mute idols.” It was not a good place to be. I can see heads nodding in agreement. Then Paul 180’s them with “Therefore…” Therefore, quit reverting to what you once were, quit being a curse to the community of faith.

Paul reminds them that, yes, there are different gifts, different ways to serve, different activities that allow us to live out and exercise our faith. He reminds them that these all come from the same Spirit/Lord/God. Getting to why this all matters, Paul says, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” First, each has been given gifts – the manifestation of the Spirit in them. Not some, not most, not a few. Each and every one has been given gifts. And the purpose of the gifts is for the common good.

This “common good” term is a bit foreign in this modern world, just as it appeared to be so in the church in Corinth. When one chooses to focus on the common good it is an intentional choice to be selfless, to elevate others above oneself. A person with the gift of healing, for example, would not just heal themselves nor would they charge others to receive this gift, gaining personal wealth. Instead, this person would generously share the gift with others, bringing God all the glory and attention. Doing so, this person would be a blessing to God and to their community. Each person, generously using the gifts that the Spirit gave, would grow together in faith and love. This was and is the ideal. For each of us, may we do our part to make this a reality.

Prayer: Lord God, first, thank you for the ways that the Spirit has blessed me. As my grateful response, guide me to be generous with others, giving to them as you lead me. Amen.


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Words of Delight

Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5

Verse 3: “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand.”

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

In today’s passage Isaiah is writing about Zion (or Jerusalem), the center of the Jewish faith. Isaiah wrote during tumultuous times, often speaking hard words of truth calling the people away from sin and back towards God. He also spoke words of hope. In spite of the sins of the people and the consequences that would come, God remained faithful, always loving God’s people. During their exile it often felt like God was silent or absent. That is where our passage today begins.

In the opening verse God declares, “I will not keep silent.” One day God will again speak. God will restore Zion. Her righteousness will then “shine out like the dawn” and the salvation she will experience will be “like a blazing torch.” All the nations and kings will see how God restores Zion. A new name will be given: “my delight is in her”. To Zion God says, “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand.” How things will be different when the people return to walking in the ways of the Lord. What a glorious day that will be!

We can also read these words as words that are personal, as words that bring us hope when we have gone astray. The same love expressed for Zion is present in our relationship with God. The times of separation that we experience is much like the seasons when God felt silent or absent to the Israelites. In these seasons in our lives God longs to restore and redeem us, to return us to “crowns of splendor”. The promise remains: “the Lord will take delight in you.” God will continue to draw us back in, to call out to us, to pour out mercy and grace over us, to hold us tight. What words of hope and promise! Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for a love that never fails. Like Israel, sometimes I fall short; sometimes I wander from your love. But your love remains. You always seek to restore, to redeem, to reconnect with me. Thank you for your love that never fails. Amen.