pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Limitless Love

Reading: Acts 10: 44-48

Verse 45: “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”.

Today’s passage is a great example of the growing circle of God’s love. Throughout the Bible we see that God’s love is much more expansive than was currently realized. At first it was just God and Adam and Eve. Then the immediate family grew. It was just Noah and family on an ark, then it grew. It was just Abram and family that headed out, following God’s promise. Eventually the people of God end up as slaves in Egypt. God redeems them and under Moses’ and then Joshua’s leadership the Israelites were God’s “chosen people”. For many years, one was a Jew or one was not. One was beloved by God or one was not. Even during most of Jesus’ ministry his focus was on his fellow Jews. There were hints of God’s love being bigger than that but the prevailing feeling was still one of exclusivity.

Peter was born and raised a Jew, steeped in this understanding of the Jews being THE chosen people. They were all that really mattered to God. And then God’s says, ‘Excuse me, Peter, but…’. In two visions that come in the first part of Acts 10 God shows Peter that his love is bigger. God begins by revising the traditional Jewish dietary restrictions – one of the big exclusivity definers. All that God created is clean. This is followed up by the Holy Spirit instructing Peter to go with three men to Cornelius’ home. Wait for it… Cornelius is a Roman centurion, a Gentile!

Turning to today’s passage, at Cornelius’ house Peter tells of the good news of Jesus Christ. During his teaching the same Holy Spirit falls on Cornelius and all who are present. All that God created is clean, acceptable, valued and loved by God. Preparing to baptize these new believers, an astonished Peter declares, “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”. In God’s sight the whole world is the mission field. All people are beloved by God. All people are created by God to be in the family of God. All people.

When I think about Peter being astonished, initially I feel a bit superior. I think, ‘Of course God loves the Gentiles. How silly of Peter to try and limit God’s love’. And then the Holy Spirit convicts me too – slaps me upside the head. There are folks I’d be astonished to see in the family of God. There are times I try and limit God’s love. I too need to better understand the limitless and unconditional nature of God’s love. Like Peter, I am still a work in progress. May God continue to break my heart for what breaks his.

Prayer: Loving God, this day help me to love more fully, to love more openly, to love deeper and wider. Keep praying open the circle of my love too. Your love knows no bounds, no barriers. Make my love the same. Amen.


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Our Salvation

Reading: Acts 4: 11-12

Verse 12: “Salvation is found in no one else”.

Photo credit: Hans Heiner Buhr

Peter makes a bold proclamation – salvation is through Christ alone. He is remembering the words Jesus himself said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). This bold claim asserts that faith in Christ is the only way to eternal life. All other paths end in condemnation. For all of its love and mercy and grace and forgiveness… this is Christianity’s hinge point. “Salvation is found in no one else”.

Belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is essential to gaining eternal life, but the offer of a relationship and of belief is not exclusive. Jesus made it clear in how he lived his life and in his teachings that all who are willing to profess faith in him will be received into his kingdom. Jesus ministered to all, regardless of who or what they were. Prostitutes, adulterers, rebels, thieves on crosses – all were within his love. Jews, men, women, rich, poor, young, old, Samaritan – all were within his love. Did all accept his love? No. Did all enter into a saving relationship? No. Did he call out to all he met? Yes. Does Jesus call out to all people today, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, occupation…? Yes. Do some still reject Jesus as Lord and Savior? Absolutely.

As ones assured of our salvation, how should we respond to the answers to these questions? We should respond as the good shepherd would. Love should lead and guide all we say and think and do. Grace and mercy should abound in our lives. All should see and experience our humble and sacrificial servant’s heart. Everyone should see the life-transforming power of Jesus Christ active within us. May Jesus, our salvation, use each of us to bring others to the gate of the sheep fold.

Prayer: Loving God, use me today as a conduit of your love and grace. In and through me may others see your son, the giver of salvation. Amen.


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A New Thing Is Coming

Reading: Isaiah 55: 1-11

Verse 3: “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live”.

In Holy Week today is a day of waiting. Jesus has been crucified and laid in the grave. This day feels like a day of grief, like a day of defeat. For the followers of Jesus, today must have felt like what most days felt like for the exiles in Babylon. These words of Isaiah are good words for Holy Saturday. I hope the disciples and followers of Jesus recalled or read these words on that difficult day long ago.

Through Isaiah, God calls “all who are thirsty” and then invites those without to come and eat. This is the table of fellowship – a place where all are welcome, a place where we share what we have to offer as a means of caring for the other. Isaiah issues God’s invitation to “eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare”. It is an invitation to blessed community, to a place of belonging. For those in exile, for those struggling through this day in the gospel stories, this is a welcome invitation.

Once connected to this community, the invitation is the extended: “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live”. God’s words bring life, reviving the soul and the spirit. Reminding us of the everlasting covenant established by Jesus Christ, we again hear the promise that God will draw all people to him, to the Christ. In verse six Isaiah reminds us of our role. Here he writes, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near”. This day, this sacred day, may we seek the Lord. May we seek his voice, for we too have this promise: “My word that goes out from my mouth, it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire”.

God desires connection, relationship, fellowship with you and with me. God desires community – it is there that we find strength, joy, love, support, encouragement. It is there that we find life. All seems lost to the grave on this day of grief. Yet a new thing is coming. Tomorrow the Son rises.

Prayer: Lord God, in your great love you always seek to draw us in, to deepen our relationship with you. On this grey day, thank you for the reminder that all things work according to your purposes. Amen.


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Known by Love

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will be their God, and they will be my people”.

The new covenant that God is speaking of in today’s passage is different than the old covenants established through Noah, Abraham, and Moses. These older covenants were with the Israelites. They were God’s chosen people, set apart for God. The new covenant will come into being through Jesus’ final sacrifice – the one we read about yesterday. The new covenant is like the old in these ways: it is centered on God’s unconditional love and we cannot reciprocate it. Unlike the old covenants, the new one is not limited to the Israelites. The new covenant extends to all people.

God declares, “I will be their God, and they will be my people” and “all will know me”. The new covenant extends to rich and poor, slave and free, Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old, saint and sinner. All are invited to the table of grace and to a place in God’s family. Jesus invited all people into the covenant of love. Called to model Jesus to the world, the charge is to love all people. Instead of holding onto our anger or judging others, we are called to be a people of forgiveness and reconciliation. Instead of categorizing and stereotyping, we’re to be people of hospitality and grace. Instead of competition and accumulation, we are to be people of generosity and community.

Each day may we be people of the new covenant, loving all people with all that we are. May all we meet know the love of God that is in us. May it flow out into all the world.

Prayer: Great God of love, your love is both unconditional and unlimited. Help me to love more like you. Give me eyes that see all as worthy of your love and of my love. Bind my heart to the least and the lost. Fill me with your love today as I go into the world. Amen.


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Faith Alone

Reading: Romans 4: 13-25

Verse 25: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

What does God expect or require of you? What did Jesus expect of his disciples and of those that would follow him? If we were to make a list to answer these questions, would the list be a collection of things to do or would it detail how to live our lives? Paul is answering these questions for the church in Rome in today’s passage.

The church in Rome was falling into the trap that Paul has been caught in for most of his life. Faith was a form of legalism – of checking boxes and staying within the lines defined by the Law. Faith was not a way of life. To help them understand this Paul goes back to Abraham, the father of Israel, the patriarch of all patriarchs in the Jewish faith. In our passage today Paul points out that God credited Abraham as righteous because of his faith in God. Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in his trust and obedience to God’s direction. The Law was not even in existence yet. Entering into this right relationship with God through faith alone made Abraham and his descendants heirs of God’s promises. For Paul, all who believe in Jesus fall into that line of descendants. Belief is what gets one in that line, not following any set of rules or lists that we can make up.

Paul defines belief in Jesus as the only action necessary to be “credited” as righteous – being right with God. He wants to be clear that righteousness does not come from following the Law or any other set of rules, but from faith in Jesus Christ. In verse 25 Paul reminds those in the church in Rome and all who follow Jesus why belief in him is essential: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”. In dying for our sins, Jesus removed the weight of the Law – that sacrifice for this sin, this sacrifice for that sin… – and he paid the price through his blood. A final sin sacrifice was offered by one for all. Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are made righteous before God. In being raised from the dead, Jesus defeated death, opening the way for us to receive eternal life. Both are gifts, given to us without price, without any requirement except believing that Jesus did this for each of us. These is no law or rules that we can follow to receive or earn these gifts. They come through faith alone. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, I am so grateful for these gifts of love – born to the cross and into the grave for me. You stood in my place and took the punishment for me. And you did not stop there. You walked out of the grave, breaking those chains too. Thank you for the gifts of love that make it possible to experience joyful and abundant life now and to enter eternal life one day through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.


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Bearing the Light

Reading: Psalm 8

Verse 4: “What is man that you are mindful of him”?

Psalm 8 begins and ends with the same words: “O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth”. For David, God was an active and vibrant part of his life. If we are looking, if we are seeking it, we too can and will see God’s majesty all around. Like David, we can see it in the glory of the heavens and in the “work of your fingers”. For example, as I write the sun is creeping up, casting a beautiful light on the ridges west of the house. God’s beauty and majesty are all around us if we but have eyes to see.

In light of the beauty and majesty of creation that David celebrates in Psalm 8’s opening verses, he poses a question in verse four. Here David asks, “What is man that you are mindful of him”? It is a great question to ponder, especially when we consider that God made you and me in his image, like the incarnate Jesus, just “a little lower than the heavenly beings”. David speaks of the works of God’s hands, of all things, being under his rule. Is David here talking of humanity or of Jesus? Or is he referring to both?

The pine tree outside my window is now bathed in a golden light. There is a glow as the light spreads over the tree. I believe “both” is the correct answer to the question above. You are I were created in God’s image to be like Jesus, to bear his light into the world, just as Jesus witnessed to God’s light in the world. May each day of our lives be a part of helping the whole world to see God’s light and love, leading all people everywhere to declare, “O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth”.

Prayer: Lord of all, how majestic is your name! Use me today and each day to bear witness to the light. Through me may others come to know your love. Amen.


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The Family

Reading: Ephesians 1: 3-14

Verse 13: “You also were included in Christ… Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”.

The opening section of Ephesians is all about God’s plans to include us all in the family of God. Paul begins by declaring that God chose us to be in Christ “before the creation of the world”. It is in “accordance with his pleasure and will” that all people are “adopted as his sons [and daughters] through Jesus Christ”. God desires for all people to be a part of the community of faith.

Starting in verse seven Paul moves on to why and how God wants us in the family. First, only then do we receive redemption for our sins. Out of love God provided a way for us to be freed from the bonds of sin. Without Christ we remain trapped in the guilt and shame. Second, God lavishes us with wisdom and understanding. The ways of God are not the ways of the world. This gift allows believers to live and see and love the world differently. Created anew in Christ, we pursue the things and ways of God instead of the world. Third, in relationship with Christ we become a part of the fulfillment of all things. Living holy lives we are a part of bringing “all things in heaven and earth together under one head, Jesus Christ”. As part of the family, we seek to help bring others into the family of God.

About three years ago I was serving a church in a small rural community. The hospital called and asked if I would come visit an elderly woman who was nearing death. Soon after arriving I learned from her daughters that she wanted to be baptized. As I left to get the needed supplies, I asked if she wanted to receive communion after being baptized. She nodded “yes”. When I returned we had a short baptism service for a 93-year-old. She had come to know Jesus as Lord later in life but had never been baptized. She knew of Paul’s words: “you were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”. Feeling a new sense of belonging, this deposit “guaranteeing her inheritance” led to celebrating holy communion in a new way too.

Taken together, all of the signs and symbols, all the wisdom and knowledge, all the blessings and graces – they reassure us of our place in the community of faith. Thanks be to God for the love that is big enough to want all of us to be saved. To the praise of his glory, amen!

Prayer: Loving God, you so want to include all people in your family. Use me today to move someone a little closer to being a part of the great community of faith. Amen.


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Walking the Path Ourselves

Reading: Matthew 23: 1-12

Verse 12: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”.

For our third day in our Matthew 23 reading, we turn to the last section – verses eight through twelve. On Friday we looked at the call to living authentic faith. We must practice what we teach. If we say we are a Christian, we must do as Jesus Christ did. On Saturday we looked at motives and intentions. If we do good just to be seen or to draw attention to ourselves, then we are not really living out our faith. Our faith should center on an audience of one – the Lord Jesus Christ. In today’s passage Jesus centers our faith on the Master, on the Messiah – Jesus Christ himself. Letting us know the value of titles and accolades in God’s economy, in verse eleven Jesus says, “The greatest among you will be your servant”. Talk about an upside-down economy! Yes, the one willing to humbly do for others is demonstrating their faith well. They are living out the two great commandments to love God with all that we are and to love neighbor as yourself.

Today in our church and in many churches we will celebrate All Saints Day. We will pause to remember and name those that have gone on to eternity. These persons have finished their race and today we remember them and are thankful for their service to God, to the church, to the community, to the building of the kingdom of God. We rejoice in the ways that they have witnessed to faithful living. Our passage today closes with these words: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”.

May we exalt the Lord our God only. May we recognize humble service as the model that Jesus Christ set and as the way that the faithful saints have walked, seeking to walk the path ourselves. May we too one day hear the words, “Well done good and faithful servant”.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the call to humble service. Thank you for all who have set and are setting the example for me. Jesus Christ is the ultimate example but we are ever surrounded by a great cloud if witness too. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Love God, Love Neighbor

Reading: Matthew 22: 34-46

Verses 37 and 39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… and love your neighbor as yourself”.

The Pharisees loved the law. It was a tool to maintain their position and their appearance of goodness. With the law they could judge and shame and control others. The law could be used to define who had value and worth and standing. Jesus chose love. That is the key word in the two great commandments. Boiled down to their simplest form, Jesus said, “Love God, love neighbor”. The highest form of love welcomes the other, serves all, extends mercy and grace and forgiveness without cost, and is generous with all one has and is. And, in the end, it is not the law that saves us, it is love that saves.

Love saves us because it is greater than our sin. Love saves us because it is stronger than the power of death. Love washes us clean when we stumble and give in to the lures of the world and to the pleasures of the flesh. Love makes us new again over and over, allowing us to continue to be in right relationship with the Lord our God. The love that grows within also extends outward, leading us to offer grace and mercy and forgiveness not only to others but to ourselves as well. Love leads us to see others as valued, as worthy, as beloved children of God. Love leads us to care for the sick, to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the imprisoned and the lonely, to provide for the orphan and widow and stranger. Love calls us to die to self again and again, surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ, the one who modeled what it is to fully love God and neighbor. Each day may we seek to share Christ’s love with others as we bring love into the world.

Prayer: Lord of love, deepen my relationship with you each day, empowering me to be love lived out. Capture my whole heart and open it to all I meet. In these encounters, may others see you. Amen.


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Friends and Fairness

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 13: “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius'”?

When the landowner hires the first group, early in the morning, they agree on a denarius for their pay. With each subsequent group the landowner says, “I will pay you whatever is right”. It was an agriculturally based economy and a denarius was the accepted wage for a days labor. The ones hired at noon, for example, would expect a half denarius for their efforts. To have good workers in your vineyard, fair pay was essential. To be able to provide for your family, a fair wage was essential. This remains how the world works.

At the end of the day the foreman is directed to pay the ones who only worked one hour first and to work his way to the ones who worked twelve hours. The story would have a totally different feel, a different impact, if told the other way around. If paid first, the twelve hours crew would go home with their denarius, happy to have earned a whole days wage. Those hired later would be happy about receiving more than they deserved, especially the three and one hour crews. But this is not a story about happiness. It is a parable about God’s grace and love towards us and about God’s sense of fairness and contentment. The parable is aimed at the religious, at those who think it unfair that a lifelong sinner could be suddenly saved and forgiven. The religious disliked how easily and freely Jesus welcomed sinners into the family of God. He was so generous with his time and love. The religious wanted the sinners to live right first – meeting all the requirements, following all the rules, jumping through all the right hoops – before entering the family of God. They wanted the sinners to get all cleaned up before joining the family. Jesus was too much of a “take you as you are” kind of guy for their particular taste.

In verse thirteen the landowner responds to the angry twelfth hour folks by saying, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius”? There are two things to note here. First, the owner calls the employee “friend”. That would be like God calling you and me ‘friend’. Wait, God does. God does not rule from on high, looking down on us, condemning us if we fail to be perfect. No, God invites us to walk and talk with him, to be his companion, to be our friend – warts and sins and all. Second, the landowner reminds the workers that he is not being unfair. I need to be reminded of this over and over when my inner Pharisee rises up and tried to look down on the humble tax collector over in the corner. God promised us grace (among many other things). God’s grace is not a finite quantity. When another receives God’s grace, there isn’t suddenly less for me. Yet sometimes I begrudge others receiving grace. Because of God’s endless love for all of humanity, there is always more than enough grace for us all. Instead of worrying about what others received, we should be thankful that we are blessed by God’s grace. I always receive way more than I deserve. Today may we each give thanks for God’s abundant grace and for our personal relationship with God, giver of grace.

Prayer: Lord God, this journey is not about happiness or getting my “fair” share relative to others. There’s no earning my way into relationship with you. So turn me from the world’s sense of happiness and from the earthly desire to compare. Help me to simply trust in my relationship with you. You desire to be my all in all. Guide me to live like I believe that and trust into that all of the time. May I rest today in your love and grace. Amen.