pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Heavenly Rewards

Reading: Luke 10:16-20

Verse 17: “The 72 returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.'”

The second half of this week’s Luke passage begins with Jesus connecting himself to the disciples and both to God. After sending them out with these final words, they return full of joy over all that they have done. One thing seems to stand out for the disciples. In verse 17 they exclaim, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Even the evil powers of this world submit in Jesus’ name. What a powerful time!

Next Jesus joins the celebration. Yes, he says, he saw “Satan fall like lightning” each time they cast out a demon, each time they healed someone and restored them to community. This power to overcome continues to be something that Jesus offers. In our trials, in our battles, in our sufferings – Jesus offers to be with us and to give us all we need to get through.

The passage ends with a ‘however.’ But it is a good however. Jesus reminds the 72 that as cool as it is that the demons submitted, it is way cooler that their faithful witness has written their names in heaven. Their faithful work here on earth has saved lives. However, the true worth is found in the heavenly reward. This too is true for us. As we witness to our faith, helping others to connect to Jesus’ love and healing, we know that we too will one day receive eternal life. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, whatever comes my way, I know that you will be right there with me. And whatever opportunity you provide to witness to your power and love, you will be right there with me. Thank you Lord for your abiding presence. Amen.


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Bring God’s Peace

Reading: Luke 10:1-11

Verse 2: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

In Luke 10 Jesus sends out the 72 (or the 70, depending on your Bible translation.) The purpose of sending these disciples out is to proclaim that “the kingdom of God is near.” By giving the 72 power to heal, Jesus is preparing these towns and villages for when Jesus himself will come to teach and heal.

While he sends them out with power Jesus also sends them out vulnerably. The 72 are to travel light and to depends on others for food and lodging. They are going out “like lambs among wolves.” The 72 are dependent on others for their basic needs. “Peace” is their calling card. If a home or place receives the peace of God that they offer, then they are to stay and minister. If not, they move on.

The ministry of the 72 is powerful. The peace of God opens doors for healing and this builds a hunger for what Jesus will offer. We’ll read more about that tomorrow. But for today, let us consider: As ones who are also sent out into the world, do we have this same power? Can we bring God’s peace to others?

When we step out in faith and are God’s presence, we bring God’s peace. When we come alongside another and offer comfort or strength, we bring God’s peace. When we help another or carry another’s burden, we offer God’s peace. These are ways that we too open the door for the healing that Christ offers. In these ways we respond to Jesus’ request to “send the workers out into his harvest field.” May we be people who help to draw the kingdom of God near.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to help others to know your peace and then your healing touch. However I can, guide me today to be a builder of your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Do Good

Reading: Galatians 6:1-10

Verse 9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

As Paul draws the letter to the Galatians to a close he focuses in on “Doing Good to All.” That’s the title given to this section by my Bibles translators. Paul opens by encouraging believers to restore one another when someone sins and to carry each other’s burdens. He invites them to have an honest appraisal of themselves and to strive to carry ones own load. These ideas connect back to Paul’s analogy of the church being one body, woven together as God intended.

Paul pivots slightly in verse 7, reminding us that God sees deeper than easily observable actions. Here Paul writes, “A man [or woman] reaps what he [or she] sows.” Paul fleshes this out in verse 8. If we sow to please our sinful nature, we will reap destruction. If we sow to please the Spirit, we will reap eternal life. An example: if we help a brother or sister in their struggle with an addiction to make ourselves feel better or to gain some gossip fodder, then we sow with evil intent and will reap destruction. If we instead help with a pure heart and an honest desire to restore this person, then we will receive eternal rewards from God.

In verses 9 and 10 Paul recognizes a reality of the Christian life. What we reap isn’t always immediately identifiable. In verse 9 he writes, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Paul is calling us to trust God with the outcome. Do what is right and good and holy and then trust God with the results. Paul then closes this section by encouraging us to do all the good, whenever we can. He says take every opportunity that we are given to share the love of Jesus Christ with the world. May it be so for you and for me this day.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me a willing spirit today. Give me energy to spread your love abroad in any way that I can today. Amen.


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What Counts

Reading: Galatians 6:1-16

Verse 15: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.”

Paul’s letter to the Galatians focused on being the community of faith. It was a “how to” letter about being the church. The natural way churches formed was sometimes a barrier to unity and acceptance. Paul’s initial audience in most places were Jews. It is natural to begin conversations about Jesus with folks who are religious in some way. They are more open to the conversation. We follow suit. For example, we’re a lot more likely to invite a new neighbor to church if they tell us they’re looking for a new church home. A lot more likely than when the new neighbor doesn’t fit our idea of someone who is “churchy.” For the Jews that became Christians, they had certain boxes that they thought needed checked. That’s the danger of starting a church with religious people.

The focus of today’s passage is circumcision/uncircumcision. That’s not really a thing anymore. But we have lots of things that we substitute today: white/nonwhite, upper class/lower class, educated/uneducated, conservative/liberal, neat and tidy/rough around the edges, Christian/nonbeliever, orthodox/unorthodox… The thing is, as it was with circumcision, these are all outward signs. God straightened us out on this argument way back in 1st Samuel 16, when Samuel anointed David. God said, “Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Today we have identifiers that read “Christian.” We include things like: goes to church on Sunday, reads the Bible, prays before meals in public. In the initial look, these too are just outward signs. The bigger question – and the one that I believe concerns God – is this: Do these practices lead to inner transformation? Asked another way, does our worship on Sunday morning affect how we treat someone on the other side of one of those substitute pairings? Does our Bible study impact how we love someone who is different than us? Does our prayer life fundamentally change how we see and welcome the “other”? If not, we are not becoming “new creations.” That’s what counts, according to Paul. May we be transformed day by day, becoming more and more like Jesus each step of the journey.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see as you see. Help me to see the heart. Doing so, may I love as you love. Amen.


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Healed and Whole

Reading: Psalm 30

Verse 5: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Psalm 30 is a typical Psalm. It displays a range of emotion and a range of connections to God. Scholars believe that David wrote these words after recovering from a grave illness. As we read it we can imagine hearing some of these words from Naaman. They’d be a bit different – he came to know God during his healing.

Our text begins with David rejoicing over God lifting him out of “the depths.” He celebrates God’s healing touch. David offers songs of praise as an expression of his gratitude. In verse 5 he reflects: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” As we know, God’s time isn’t our time. So a “night” can be a season. In these times when we have suffered for multiple nights, we long for the sun to rise again, proverbially speaking. Afflicted for many years with a skin disease, how bright the sun shown for Naaman as he emerged clean and whole again. We too have each experienced times when the sun finally rose, when we felt healed and whole again.

Psalm 30 is David’s expression of these feelings and emotions. We can read these words as encouragement, as hope, as assurance, as light in the darkness. We too are called to remember our “weeping” for a “night” and our “rejoicing” in the “morning.” Remembering, may we seek opportunities to share encouragement, hope, assurance, and light with someone who is in the midst of a dark night.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to help another walk in the valley. Guide me to share my experience if your presence so that one in need of your love may experience that today. Amen.


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New and Improved

Reading: 2nd Kings 5:1-14

Verse 12: “So he turned and went off in a rage.”

Elisha and Naaman are the main characters in our passage from 2nd Kings 5. Elisha is the prophet in Samaria referred to by the slave girl. He too is confident in God and has a strong faith. Hearing of the king of Israel’s distress over the letter, Elisha sends a message: “Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” Naaman and his entourage are directed to Elisha’s house.

Instead of going out to greet this important general, Elisha sends out a messenger with this simple prescription: “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan…” Naaman, however, expects to be greeted. He expects something showy from the prophet. He has a deeply pressing need – to be healed of his leprosy – and he expects a matching response. Naaman receives none of this. He is insulted and angered by Elisha’s interaction with him. “So he turned and went off in a rage.”

Do you suppose Elisha was peeking out the window the whole time, evaluating how the scene played out? He was patient. Perhaps God told him Naaman needed more than a physical healing. Or maybe it was easy to see that Naaman needed an attitude adjustment. As he’s about to storm off, Naaman’s servants reel him back in. Convinced that he should at least try this simple thing, Naaman finds “his flesh restored.” His skin “became like that of a young boy.” Naaman isn’t just healed. He is new and improved. He is healthier than he could have ever hoped for. I suppose Elisha smiled broadly as he watched Naaman’s reaction to God at work in his life. How would you react if you were Naaman?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder that you are a God who does more than. More than we expect. More than we can imagine. More than we deserve. More than we could ever earn. Thank you for your abundant and generous love that makes us new and improved. Amen.


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A Simple Faith

Reading: 2nd Kings 5:1-14

Verse 3: “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

As we begin the first of two days in 2nd Kings 5 let us focus on the supporting characters. Tomorrow we’ll look at the main characters: Naaman and Elisha. Verse 1 sets the scene. Naaman is a great and powerful man, an army commander from Aram. He is highly regarded by the king of Aram. But Naaman has leprosy, a skin disease.

The main supporting character is a slave girl from Israel. She was taken captive, possibly in a raid led by Naaman. She surveys his condition and declares, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” What an honest and strong faith she has! Just go and see the prophet and be healed. Her declaration leads Naaman to the king, who says, “By all means, go.” He sends a letter along to the king of Israel, expecting Naaman to be healed. This is a lot of trust to place in the faith of a simple slave girl.

The king of Israel receives the letter and tears his robes. He fears that the king of Aram is trying to pick a fight by asking him to do the impossible. What a contrast to the faith of a simple slave girl. Elisha intercedes and Naaman is sent to Elisha. A servant of Elisha – not the prophet himself – comes out and gives instructions. Angry and insulted, Naaman is ready to go home mad. But his servants intervene, calling him to trust in this simple slave girl’s faith. Naaman submits and he is healed. He in made clean.

What a great healing comes from the contagious faith of a simple slave girl! In this big old world most of us are not a Naaman or an Elisha. Yet we can practice a powerful faith, one that trusts in the power of God and invites others to do the same. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, in my heart I know that you can do anything. Help me today to reflect that in my words, actions, and thoughts. Doing so, may others come to know you too. Amen.


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Be Patient, Extend Grace

Reading: Luke 9:51-56

Verse 51: “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”

As Jesus’ time on earth draws near to a close he “resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Knowing what lies ahead, Jesus is committed to God’s plan. The abuse, the false accusations, the beatings, the nails, the weight of the sin of the world, the separation from God – Jesus knows every detail about what lies ahead in Jerusalem. And he resolutely sets off for Jerusalem. In this life we too will face trials; we too will deal with pain and rejection. As modeled by Christ, we too must resolve to walk in faith and to trust into God’s plans for us and for our lives.

Along the way Jesus is rejected by a Samaritan village. They are not his focus so they will not welcome him for an overnight. We too will encounter such people. If it’s not all about them then there is little room for Jesus or faith or whatever else we can offer. James and John are offended by this reality and want to “call down fire from heaven.” Jesus rebukes them and they move on to another village. I’d guess that Jesus was reminding James and John to be patient, to extend grace. This too is a good reminder for us.

If we are willing to extend ourselves, to engage the world out there, we will cross paths with people in need of Jesus. Some will recognize the impact that Jesus has on our lives and will want the same for themselves. Others, however, will not be ready for Jesus and they will reject him and us. Some people are ready for the Holy Spirit to move in their lives, some are not. In all cases may we be patient and may we extend grace. May it be so in the days ahead.

Prayer: Lord God, we rejoice in all that we have and find in you. Guide us by your love and by the power of the Holy Spirit to be sharers of our relationship with you. In doing so may others be open to a relationship with you. Amen.


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But First…

Reading: Luke 9:57-62

Verse 61: “I will follow you Lord, but first…”

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

Our passage for today is titled “The Cost of Following Jesus” in my Bible. Just reading and considering these words brings an array of thoughts and emotions. This particular morning I range from “of course there is a cost” to “I wonder what the cost would be if I truly was all-in with following Christ?” One does not walk with Jesus very long before one understands there is a cost. The second realization or question only comes after one has walked a few miles with Jesus.

In today’s passage Jesus interacts with three people who express a desire to follow him. Let’s just say right up front that we can all relate to all three people. The first tells Jesus he’ll follow “wherever you go.” The trouble is there is no “wherever.” The journey of faith never ends. A relationship with Jesus is one where our faith is ever on the move, ever growing and changing. The second man is called by Jesus: “Follow me.” Unlike the first disciples who left nets and tax booths to follow, this man says, “Wait a minute…” He has to go do something else first. The third man combines the first and second, saying, “I will follow you Lord, but first…” The “but first” are the key words, the important words.

Sure, Jesus, I’ll go visit that person, but first… Sure, Jesus, I’ll help with that ministry need, but first… Sure, Jesus, I’ll start coming to church again, but first… Sure, Jesus, I’ll forgive ____, but first… These are a few of the many ways I struggle with the “but first…” concept. A few of many. As you can see, I’m often wrestling with the cost of following. The hard reminder today calls me and encourages me to walk closer to Jesus, to hold a little tighter to the plow. Doing so, may I be better “fit for serving in the kingdom.” May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, sometimes I think you’d like to ask me if I’d like fries or chicken with my waffles. And sometimes I don’t even get that far. Forgive me for the times I fail and for the times when I don’t get close enough to even fail. Help me to walk a little closer to Jesus today. Today, O Lord. Amen.


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Keep in Step

Reading: Galatians 5:22-25

Verse 23b: “Against such things there is no law.”

Photo credit: Caju Gomes

Yesterday in the first half of our Galatians 5 passage we looked at how faithfully living comes down to loving unconditionally. When love truly leads and guides all we do, then we live without even worrying about violating any of the Law, nevermind feeling captive to it. In today’s verses Paul continues this line of thinking.

Today’s passage begins by contrasting the “acts of the sinful nature” with a list of what we’ll call the “acts of the Spirit.” The list we find in verses 22 and 23 are what comes when we live by the Spirit as we practice Christ’s love. Here’s the list: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These are the characteristics that emerge and develop in our life when Christ’s love is our primary guide to our relationships, to our actions, and to our decisions.

Aligning with yesterday’s main point, in verse 23b we read, “Against such things there is no law.” There is no law against loving well. Therefore there is no law against these characteristics that come out of loving others as Jesus loves them. Further, Paul reminds us that we are able to “crucify” the sinful nature within when we live this way. How hard it is to sin when filled with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control!

This day and every day may we seek to “keep in step with the Spirit,” being people of light and love in a dark and hurting world. May it be so for us all!

Prayer: Lord God, as I seek to love others unconditionally today, help me to be filled with the fruit of the Spirit. May my life offer love to those in need, joy to those in need, peace to those in need… Amen.