pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Connection Point

Reading: Galatians 3:26-29

Verse 26: “You are all sons [and daughters] of God through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Photo credit: Hans Heiner Buhr

Transitioning in Galatians 3, Paul shifts from a focus on what it means to be freed from the Law and bound to Christ instead to a focus on what that means for the church and for those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As was the case in yesterday’s devotional, this adoption as children of God is not a passive or one-time event. Our faith and our relationship with Jesus Christ must constantly challenge, inspire, and push us to be better followers and better human beings.

Paul begins our passage today with these words: “You are all sons [and daughters] of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” The main point of Paul’s thought here is unity. It begins with understanding that all of us – all people, not just Christians – are children of God. Some choose to recognize this and decide to move deeper into relationship, becoming a son or a daughter when we profess faith in Jesus Christ. This begins a relationship, a personal connection. The connection point is Jesus as the relationship is with him.

In verse 28 Paul illustrates what he means by “all.” He is intentional about the 3 pairs that he uses. The Jew/Greek, slave/free, and male/female labels are the ones most impacting the unity of the church at that time. A modern writing of this verse might not include all three or even any of these. Or it might. Paul’s point is, again, aimed at unity. He calls the church and those who make up the church to look beyond any and all labels except one: son or daughter of God. And, again, the common connection point in Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus that we are all “heirs” to all of the promises of God. What a gift this inheritance is! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord of all, today I rejoice in the breadth of your love for all of humanity. Each of us, created both in your image and as you want each of us to be, are called even deeper, into a personal relationship. I ask that you would use me as you will, helping all to know the truth of your great love. Amen.


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A God For All People

Reading: Acts 11:1-18

Verse 9: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

Today’s passage from Acts 11 is about God opening hearts and minds. There were many laws from the Torah concerning dietary restrictions, circumcision, and interaction with outsiders. Devout Jews had followed these laws for years, for centuries as a people. While some were aimed at remaining healthy, many were to keep the circle drawn in tightly around God’s “chosen people.”

Peter grew up practicing these laws. He is astounded when God – yes, God – tells him to kill and eat things that are unclean according to the law. He says, “Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” And it’s not about to start now God! How dare God say such a thing! Yes, it does sound a bit ridiculous to question God, doesn’t it? But that’s how deeply ingrained these laws are. God repeats the message three times to make sure pious Peter hears it.

Just after this God encounter, some men come, asking Peter to come to Cornelius’ home. Led by the Spirit, Peter goes. He enters the home of an uncircumcised (pop!) Gentile (pop!). There goes two more “I never…” moments. Once there, Peter begins to share the good news of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit suddenly “comes on them as he has come on us at the beginning” (pop!). This was proof that God was at work, leading and guiding this widening of the circle. Peter and the other church leaders understood that God and salvation is for all people.

When have you experienced such a thing? When were you witness to someone receiving Christ that you had thought outside of his love? If you haven’t witnessed this, who could you begin sharing the good news with that you might have previously seen as outside of God’s love?

Prayer: Lord God, open my heart and mind to further realize and understand and practice the width and breadth of your love. Help me to see, to treat, to engage all people as your beloved creation. Amen.


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Seek to Praise

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 13: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted.”

Psalm 148 is pretty thorough about who and what is to praise the Lord. Those to be included are the angels and all of the “heavenly host”, as well as kings, princes, rulers, young men, maidens, old men, and children. What is included are sun, moon, stars, sky, sea creatures, lightning, hail, snow, clouds, wind, mountains, hills, trees, wild animals, cattle, small creatures, birds. You get the picture – all of creation is to praise the Lord. Why all? Because God created it all. Because God loves it all.

You and I – we are included in that list. We fall within “all.” So why do or should we, along with all of creation, praise the Lord? First, it is our response to God’s love for us. In love, God created every single one of us – unique and in Christ’s image. Individuals yet connected together through Christ. In love, God sacrificed his son for us. In love, God seeks to be a part of our lives. In response, we love God back by offering our praise and worship and adoration.

Second, it is one thing that God asks of us. Our covenant and faithful God asks us to live out our love. We are called to steward and love all of creation. We are charged to love one another as Jesus Christ first loved us – to model the depth of Christ’s love to one another. (More on that later in the week!) This too is a form of praising the Lord.

This day and every day, may all we say and do and think be an expression of God’s love as we seek to praise the Lord with all that we are.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the magnificent and awesome creator of all things. As creator, you love all of your creation. Help me to do the same. Amen.


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Open and Free to All

Reading: Luke 22:14-28

Verse 17: “Take this and divide it among you.”

In our reading today we find Jesus sharing in the first communion with his disciples. Peter and John has been sent ahead to secure the room and to gather the elements to celebrate the Passover. Like it was with the two sent to find the colt, Peter and John “found things just as Jesus had told them.” This is another example of the divinity of Christ.

As they gather Jesus tells them that he has “eagerly desired” to share in this meal one more time before he suffers. During the meal Jesus takes a cup and says, “Take this and divide it among you.” All partake in the sharing of this cup. All will partake in the bread and cup of this first communion. Jesus did not send Judas on some phony errand so that he wasn’t around. Jesus demonstrates in verse 21 that he knew Judas would betray him. Yet he included Judas in communion.

What does this simple act tell us about how we understand and practice communion? First, it tells us that communion is for those who have sinned. So it is for all of us. One mustn’t come to the table already made right with God. One comes seeking to be made right with God. Jesus is telling Judas that he is welcome at the table, even though he has already agreed to betray Jesus. So our second lesson is that we too should invite all to the table of grace. The table is open and free to all people, from the purest saint to the most deeply stained sinner. All are invited to be made new again at the table of grace. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, I rejoice in your love that makes me new again every time I kneel at your table of grace. Lead me to invite all to the table of grace so that all may know your love. Amen.


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All People

Reading: Romans 10:8b-13

Verse 10: “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

In our passage today Paul is proclaiming that all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior will be saved. That is a bold and sweeping statement. Yet it pales in comparison to the breadth and depth and width of God’s love for us.

Our text for today begins with a recognition that for believers “the word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your hearts.” There is a closeness in our relationship with God. The Spirit, God’s presence, is within us, dwelling in us – ever on our hearts and in our minds. Ever at work in the faith of the believer, the Holy Spirit helps us to grow in our faith, deepening the belief in our heart. Part of this growing process is our justification. This is the process of being made right with God. This process requires our mouth to confess and our minds and hearts to commit to repentance. The words spoken by our lips and lived out by our hearts brings God’s forgiveness and saving mercies upon us. This ongoing and often repeated process is part of our daily walk with God. Thanks be to God for this great love.

While we celebrate the love of God that continues to work in us, drawing us more and more into the likeness of Christ, do we freely extend this love to all others? Do we really believe that God loves “that guy” as much as me? Surely God could not love that grumpy neighbor or that mean boss that much. Certainly there is less love for the prostitutes and drug dealers. Yet in verse 12 we read, “there is no difference between Jew and Greek – the same Lord is Lord of all.” Today Paul would write that there is no difference between Christians and non-Christians – God is the God of all. God’s heart yearns to include all people in God’s family. May our hearts yearn for this as well.

Prayer: Lord God, may my words and actions proclaim that your love reaches out to all people. By my words and actions may I reveal that love to all people, drawing them towards your unconditional love. Amen.


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To All People

Reading: John 1: 1-14

Verse 14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Our passage for Christmas day is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In today’s reading John reminds us that Jesus, the Word, has been here since the beginning. He was part of creation; he is the breath of life in all humankind. He is light – a light that shines into the darkness, both into the dark of the world and into the dark in our hearts. Jesus came to save us all from the darkness: “to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”, to be brothers and sisters in Christ.

This powerful passage of love and invitation and welcome concludes with these words: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Our perfect, all-powerful God took on flesh so that he could live for a time among us. The “one and only” became like us, revealing the glory of God. Incarnate in the flesh, Jesus lived a life “full of grace and truth.” Grace and truth were revealed in and through his unconditional love. Grace expressed in unconditional love tells us that there is nothing we can do or say that lessens God’s love for us. Forgiveness restores us again and again when we stumble and sin, telling us that we are still beloved. Truth expressed in unconditional love reminds us that Jesus is for all people. There is no one that God does not want to be in relationship with. Jesus came for all of humankind. He came to give life to all people. He died to offer the forgiveness of sins and the way to life eternal to all people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming and expressing what it means to truly love all people. Your light continues to shine into the darkness of our world and of our hearts, revealing the grace and truth found in unconditional love. Guide me to love as you first loved us. Amen.


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All of Creation

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 13: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted.”

In the first twelve verses of Psalm 148 the psalmist calls about everything imaginable to praise the Lord. From all of humanity to the stars to sea creatures to storms to elements of the physical world – all of creation is represented. There is nothing in this beautiful world that wasn’t created by God so all of creation praises God in its own way. This is summed up in verse thirteen: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted.”

It might be hard for some to envision snakes or spiders or other phobia creatures praising God. For others it might take some serious effort to think of how a tornado or typhoon could bring praise to God. Others see beauty in the intricacy of the spider’s web or in the pattern of the snake’s skin. There they see God’s fingerprints. Others see God’s power and majesty in the storm. All of creation, each in its unique way, praises God the creator.

As we are all created by God, we also all belong to the same family. We are connected through the creator to all of creation. Sometimes, when I look at the world, I can see how we have lost this connection in our hearts. I can see instances where we have decided to ignore this connection in favor of meeting our own wants or desires. This must sadden the creator. Yet the creator continues to love us even when we fail to steward well the creation that God gave us. As part of our praise to God may we begin to better love all of creation. In doing so, the creator will be praised.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this wonderful and amazing creation. I am but a small, small part. Guide me to better love all parts of the work of your hand, growing in my love for you in the process. Amen.


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Sees All, Knows All

Reading: Hebrews 4: 12-13

Verse 13: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.”

Photo credit: Hermes Rivera

So far this week we have read about Job and David coming before God, offering bold prayers. There was lament in their prayers. But there was also a recognition that God could act or intervene on their behalf in restorative ways. Both also struggle to sense God’s presence. In today’s passage we read, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.” We know this is true. Job and David were bold approaching God knowing this truth as well. Can we approach with such boldness? Or do we have parts of ourselves that we do not really want God to see?

In Hebrews we read that the word of God is “active and alive… penetrating” and that it “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Job and David felt alone; they could not sense God’s presence. Here in the New Testament we read that God sees and knows all things, that the word of God judges our thoughts and attitudes. Nothing is hidden from God. Then why do we try to hide some things or feel unable to bring all things to God in prayer? It is not because we do not want to “lay bare” these things to God – God already sees and knows them! To take these things before God fully exposed them in our own hearts and minds. What then?! What then do we do with these ongoing struggles within, with these parts of ourselves that are not pleasing to God?

We begin by bringing them to God, by admitting our failures and shortcomings to ourselves and to God. We allow the living and active word of God to penetrate and separate us from the things of this world that we so closely cling to. We commit to turning from these things in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We pledge ourselves to a deeper walk of faith in and through Jesus Christ. Yes, God knows and sees all things. A faithful walk begins with a humble and repentant heart. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God of all creation, make my heart right today. Draw out of me those things that hinder my walk with you. Empower me to admit them to myself so that the work of rooting them out may begin. Strengthen me for this hard work. Amen.


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Servant to All

Reading: Mark 9: 30-37

Verse 35: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Photo credit: K. Mitch Hodge

As we delve into Mark 9 today we look at one of the conflicts within all of us. On the one hand we want to be the best. We want recognition, titles, position, power. On the other hand Jesus calls us to be “servant of all.”

The disciples are not much different than we are. Walking along to road they argued about who was the greatest disciple. As kids we argued about who was the best player on the team and about who was smartest at math. As teens we argue about who is the coolest or about who has the best car, clothes… As adults we vie for promotions and titles. We try and demonstrate our success by the homes we live in, by the cars we drive… In our own ways we desire greatness, just like the disciples did.

Jesus knows what they were arguing about. He begins to counter this desire by saying, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” The radical, counter-cultural Jesus suggests another way. This “servant of all” approach is modeled by Jesus. This call to humble service is a call to always be humble, in all circumstances and with all people. It’d be easy to be humble standing on a basketball court with Michael Jordan. It’d be much harder to do so when staring at a kid who can’t tie his shoe, much less dribble a ball. In this illustration we’d love to find something, anything, that we could do for Jordan. Humility calls us to be equally if not more willing with the awkward kid. For Jesus, all meant all.

To serve all others is not always easy. To illustrate the depth of this call, Jesus gathers a child in his arms. He challenges the disciples to welcome children as he does. Jesus takes one who is an afterthought in most places in that society and elevates them to a place of full belonging and equality. The child represents the one with great needs who cannot care for themselves. More than just children would meet this description. To care for the least and the last always requires humility wrapped in a servant’s heart. Following Jesus’ example may we too strive to serve all.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see and love as Jesus did. Help me to see, care for, and treat all people, regardless of who or what they are, as ones to love. Grant me both a humble heart and hands and feet willing to serve. Amen.


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Even the Dogs

Reading: Mark 7: 24-30

Verse 28: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Photo credit: Charles Deluvio

At the start of our passage Jesus and the disciples travel to Tyre, a city along the coast north of Israel. Jesus is looking for some rest as they enter a house hoping no one notices. Yet even in this Gentile land the rumors of Jesus have crept in. Scholars believe that some from this region would have traveled to see this Jesus. Because of all this, “he could not keep his presence secret.” A woman, a Gentile, comes and falls at his feet, begging Jesus to heal her demon-possessed little daughter.

While on an attempted getaway someone wants Jesus to be Jesus, the Son of God, the healer. We’ve all been interrupted on vacation. We know what it is like. Add in the inherent cultural bias present in almost all Jew-Gentile interaction and this was a hard request for Jesus to receive. After all, he was partly human. In an attempt to dismiss her, Jesus says these words: “First let the children eat all they want”. He came to save the lost sheep of Israel, the children of God, the chosen ones. Let him care for them first. To add haste to her possible departure, Jesus continues, saying, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” The Jewish-Gentile antagonism that was all around Jesus slips out of his lips as he calls her and her people a “dog.” The Jews saw the Samaritans and others from the north as half-breeds and often called them dogs or worse.

We’ve all been really tired and in need of rest. We’ve all been interrupted when it was annoying or inconvenient or frustrating or… Some of those times I have not been the most gracious. I have said things or responded in ways that I am not proud of. Perhaps you have too. I think Jesus did this day. But the woman’s belief in Jesus as the healer and her love for her daughter is greater. The dismissive words and the insult do not deter her. She says, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” But you can heal my daughter. But you are here right now. But even us Gentiles deserve a little bit of God’s mercy.

Jesus is moved. For such faith the daughter is healed. He tells her to go home, the demon is gone. It is as Jesus said as the woman returns to her daughter. As we will also see later in the week, Jesus was not just for the Jews or is not just for Christians today. His love and care extends to the ends of the earth, covering all people in his grace. The challenge for us as followers of Jesus Christ is to allow the Spirit to work within us too, leading us to love as Jesus loved. May it be so – even when we are tired, even when the other isn’t ‘ours’ or isn’t just like us!

Prayer: Lord God, give me the strength and the courage to love well, no matter the situation, no matter how I feel. Always fill me with your love and grace so that I have plenty to offer. Amen.