pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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In Christ

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 16-17

Verse 17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”.

Our verses for today begin with Paul inviting us to look beyond the world and its points of view. Too often we see as the world sees. People of faith can be just like the world in terms of how we define ourselves and others. We too easily see and understand ourselves and others through terms like race, class, gender, occupation, ethnicity, age, and so on. Too often terms like these lead to judging another’s worth and value – all us relative to how we see or define ourselves. Jesus did not see or understand the world and the people he encountered this way. Why should we think it OK to do so?

Who we are and how we see and understand ourselves is part of our sacredness. God created all of us, knit us together in love. Our worth and our value is rooted in this holy creation. Each created by God, each made in the image of our God – this is how we should see and understand ourselves and others. No worldly terms or constructs should in any way lessen how we see and understand and love ourselves and one another.

Early in the history of the church a deadly disease spread through many communities. Out of fear of dying themselves, many people placed loved ones out in the street to die. It was those early Christians who took the sick into their homes to care for them, to love on them. The early church did not care that they were pagans or Jews or that they were rich or poor or anything else. Jesus had instructed them to care for the least of these. How far some of us have gotten from such simple instructions.

As followers of Jesus Christ may we reclaim the vision and love of the one we say we follow. Loving and caring for all we meet and encounter, may we see and understand each as created by God, each as beloved by God. Doing so we live into these words: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”. In Christ may we transform ourselves, the church, and the world into a more loving, caring, and just place.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me this day to love as Jesus Christ loved. Grant me eyes to see all as you see them – created in love by you. Seeing as you see, may I live out your love in the world each day. Amen.


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Belonging in God

Reading: 1st Samuel 8: 4-9

Verse 7: “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Our passage for today and tomorrow begins with the elders of Israel coming to Samuel to request a king. In all of their history they have never had a king. They have always had a leader and some have been great ones: Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Samuel. Yet even under these leaders God was clearly the one leading the people. The request for a king is driven by a few “concerns”.

The first concern is for their future. Samuel has led well. Next in line are his sons. But they are corrupt, evil. They “do not walk in your ways”. The elders recognize what a disaster it would be to have Joel and/or Abijah assume Samuel’s role. The second concern is a common human desire – to fit in, to be like others, to feel accepted. All the other nations have a king. The Israelites want one too. They want someone to fight their battles for them. Ironically, Samuel has just subdued the Philistines. The third concern centers on control. Samuel has kept the Israelites on the straight and narrow, best as he can. Samuel carries authority as the voice of God and God seems to just keep sending Samuel around. There is no wiggle room. A king would give them a little more breathing room, a bit of space between them and God. God recognizes this. In verse seven God says to Samuel, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

As I reflect on these concerns, I realize that they are our concerns too. We all want a good leader, be that a prophet, judge, king, pastor, boss, or political leader. We want to feel safe and secure yet want some freedom and sense of control too. We still want to fit in and to belong, to be accepted. We too can look around and want a new car too, a new job title or position, a fancy vacation experience, or even a pastor like that church down the street. We easily see how “different” we are or how green the grass looks over there – and we want to fix that. These two concerns boil down to the third one when we’re honest. For the Israelites they wanted the freedoms of the people living around them. At times we too feel that God has been holding our feet too close to the fire. We feel conviction instead of realizing that it is refinement and sanctification.

Instead of rejecting God (or our faith or our church) for any or all of these reasons, may we first find our belonging in God. We are each a beloved child of God. This is our identity, our place. That love is more than we will be able to comprehend until we see face to face. In that truth may we walk as a child of God, day by day trusting in God’s provision, content with his care. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when my eyes or heart strays, remind me of your love and care. Draw me back to the narrow way, to the only way. It is the best path to walk. May I faithfully follow in Jesus’ way each day. Amen.


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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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The Power

Reading: John 20: 19-23

Verse 21: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Shortly after Mary Magdalene announces that she has seen the risen Lord, Jesus appears to the disciples. They are gathered together, hiding behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews”. For three years they have lived together almost 24-7. In the blur of less than 24 hours their leader and Lord has been arrested and crucified. As the disciples ponder all this and the news of Mary Magdalene, Jesus appears and offers them his peace. Jesus offers his hands and side as proof – “the disciples are overjoyed”. What a beautiful end to a tragic story!

Next, Jesus does not offer to cash in their healthy 401-3-k. He does not wish them well and send them off into the sunset with a very generous severance package. No, Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”. In reality he is saying, ‘Men who were hiding in fear, be bold and go out to those Jews you fear and proclaim the good news’. Jesus wants them to get back out there, to continue to share the message of God’s love and grace. He has the same expectation of you and me, brother or sister of Christ. Jesus calls us to be witnesses to the good news, fellow beloved children of God almighty.

“With that” commission given Jesus empowers them for the task ahead. Jesus breathes new life into the disciples as he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. The same indwelling holy presence that guided Jesus is now shared with these disciples. The Spirit that led Jesus for three years is now breathed into the disciples so that they can continue the work of building the kingdom of God. When we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, when we ask him to the the Lord of our life, we are empowered by the same Holy Spirit. Through the sharing of our faith and the witness of our lives we are sent out into the world to build the kingdom of God. Inviting and guiding others into relationship with Jesus Christ we offer the opportunity to new life – a life without enslavement to sin and death.

My friends, we too have the power over sin that the disciples exercised. Jesus’ unconditional love and undeserved grace is available to one and all. Each time the Holy Spirit nudges or leads us to share our faith with a lost or broken soul, we hold the power of forgiveness in our hands. How will we exercise this power, this access to love and grace? As we are given opportunity, may we live as resurrection people, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with all we meet. May this be the power that we choose.

Prayer: Lord of life, may your peace reign in my heart and mind. May that peace propel me out into the world to share your love and grace, your good news, with all I meet. May it ever be so. Amen.


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In Solitude and Prayer

Reading: Hebrews 5: 5-10

Verse 7: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions… he was heard because of his reverent submission”.

Photo credit: Patrick Fore

Our passage today reminds us of how Jesus was like us and calls us to be like him. In the first verse we are reminded that Jesus did not come as a high priest. Jesus could have been born into the tribe of Levi and could have assumed the role of priest after finishing all his formal training. He would have then served in the temple or maybe in a local synagogue to start out. In this role Jesus would never have gone out to engage the world. He would not have crossed paths with Gentiles and lepers and prostitutes and the many others that he did heal and bring back into community. Most Jews saw themselves as a people set apart from the world and the priests were a group within this people who were even more set apart and isolated.

Jesus was born into the family of a common laborer – a carpenter. After the miraculous birth and exile in Egypt, Jesus was raised as an ordinary kid in a small town. Jesus learned the family business and spent years in the profession. His parents were good Jews and family was where he first found love and belonging. When Jesus began his ministry at about 30 years of age, he had experienced the good and bad, the hard and joyous of life. Once Jesus stepped into the role of Messiah he did not hunker down in the temple, waiting for folks to come hear his great wisdom. His ministry was radical for the time. It remains radical for today. Jesus traveled the country, teaching, healing, preaching, feeding, reconciling… In all he did, Jesus exhibited a love for and devotion to God. If anyone deserved to be the high priest, it was Jesus. Instead, he lived as one of us.

A regular practice of Jesus’ life was solitude and prayer with God. In verse seven we read, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions… he was heard because of his reverent submission”. In times of need, Jesus turned to God for comfort, strength, peace. This too should be our practice: to turn to God in our times of need. In our moments of need, we too want to know that we are beloved children of God. We too want to know that God cares for us. We too want to rest in his presence, in our place in the family of God. As we seek to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, may we be like Jesus, ever seeking the loving presence of our life-giving God.

Prayer: Lord God, hear our cries, alleviate our pain and suffering. Draw us near when we seek you; assure us of our place of belonging. Lead us to bring all things to you in prayer, guide us to rest in your presence. Walk with us all of our days. Amen.


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Worthy

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 2: 1-8

Verse 8: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”.

Paul’s letters to the churches and to individuals usually served two main purposes: to build up the community of faith and to teach good Christian living. Paul spent the last few years of his life as an apostle, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever he went. Paul’s missionary efforts in these years was not always easy, as evidenced in verse two: “with the help of God we dared to tell you the gospel”. On his visits, Paul spoke with authority. He was one “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel”. Because of this, Paul had helped many to follow Jesus and he founded many churches throughout the known world. He dearly loved Jesus Christ and those who were his brothers and sisters in Christ.

The depth of Paul’s love is revealed in verse eight: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”. Paul himself valued the relationship between believers. He often lifted up the community of faith in his many writings. Fellowship and mutual love were common themes for Paul. In his letters he often shares how he longs to be with his brothers and sisters in Christ – this too is evidence of his love for the family of God. Paul valued each individual because he believed they were a part of the body of Christ. For him, this was a connection stronger than blood and deeper than any other social or political connection. This connection was founded solely upon his love for Jesus Christ – the driving force in his life.

It was this driving force that led Paul to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with all he met. Paul witnessed to about everyone he met. The story goes that he even shared his faith with the Roman soldiers who had him under arrest. Paul saw even these, those who many would consider enemies of God, as children of God worthy of the same love he gave freely to his brothers and sisters in Christ. May we too seek to model this same universal love as we strive to live out our faith day by day, person by person.

Prayer: Lord of all, help me to see others as Paul did – each as your beloved. Help me to see each as you see them. Then may I love them as you do. May it be so. Amen.


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A Birthright

Reading: Genesis 25: 19-34

Verse 31: “Jacob replied, ‘First sell me your birthright'”.

Today’s passage centers around twins – Esau and Jacob. At birth only seconds separate the moment they come out of the womb. Esau emerges first, with Jacob immediately following him, grasping his brother’s heel. The image of brothers wrestling as they enter the world is an extension of what they did in the womb and is a foreshadowing of their future relationship. Esau grows up to become a man of nature, of the outdoors, a hunter, a doer. Jacob grows up as a home body, a man of the inside, a cook, a thinker. Because they are so different they never really know or understand one another.

Because Esau entered the world first, he gains the birthright. He will be entitled to a larger share of Abraham’s land, animals, servants, slaves, and all other forms of wealth. He gains the power to one day be the primary decision maker. But Esau is a man unto himself. He hunts and spends most of his time alone. As he comes in famished after a long hunt, he desires food. Now. Jacob has food to offer his older brother, but at a price. He says to Esau, “First sell me your birthright'”. Esau quickly complies. The doer just wants to eat. He does so and leaves quickly. Jacob the thinker, the schemer, has probably thought this scenario through a thousand different ways. He is eager to take advantage of Esau.

This story of birthrights may feel a bit foreign in our modern era. Being the firstborn can carry some advantages, but they are nothing like they were in the ancient world. By Jesus’ day, for example, we know that the eldest son would receive a double portion. That would now be 2/3 for Jacob and 1/3 for Esau. Gaining the birthright was a huge advantage in life.

As people of faith we see our most important birthright as “child of God”. Through faith in Jesus Christ we are brought into the family as brothers and sisters, as coheirs with Christ. The reward of this birthright far outweighs any earthly birthright we may receive. But this birthright also carries a weight. As fellow brothers and sisters in and with Christ, we see all people as equal inheritors of God’s love. As such, our role is to be equal sharers of that love. Christ came for one and for all. He died for one and for all. May we see and treat one another – all one anothers – as equals, as dearly beloved children of God.

Prayer: Lord God, as I reflect and write this morning my mind returns to a song from Sunday. We sung that we are “no longer slaves” but are “a child of God”. As I celebrate that today, may I share it with others as well. Amen.


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Loving God and Neighbor

Reading: Matthew 11: 16-19

Verse 18: “John came neither eating or drinking… The Son of Man came eating and drinking”.

Today’s passage from Matthew is part of Jesus’ response to John the Baptist asking if Jesus really is the one to come, “or should we expect someone else”? John is in prison for speaking the truth against the political leader. From prison he sees Jesus’ ministry as much different than his own. John had gone into the wilderness, away from the trappings of the world. There he lived a very pious life as he called people to repentance in preparation for the coming Messiah. He baptized people into a renewed walk with God. The religious came to John to find faith once again. John baptized Jesus himself and heard God declare Jesus his beloved Son. And now, as he sees Jesus doing ministry in a different way, he questions if Jesus is the one.

Today, one way we demonstrate our love of God is by gathering for worship. Another way we demonstrate our love of God is by serving others through the sharing of our time, our resources, and of ourselves. Although in a place without walls, John had a specific place where he ministered. To see and hear John preach and to be baptized, one went to John. To him, his life of simplicity and piety modeled a faithful relationship with God. In these ways, John was much like the Pharisees and other religious leaders. Yet John clashed with them because he saw that they loved the law more than they loved God. But like John, they said come to the temple, follow our rules, be like us. Neither John nor the religious leaders had much understanding of Jesus’ forms of ministry. He was radically different.

Jesus went to the sinners and tax collectors and other outsiders. He sought them out and then he sat and ate with them, forming relationships. The religious accused Jesus of touching and eating with the unclean and the impure. They saw him fellowshipping with them and labeled him a “glutton and a drunkard“. Jesus chose to get outside the established walls of the temple and synagogues – to go to the people who would not enter these places. He went to those who felt unwelcomed, to those who felt unworthy, to those who were outcasts and who were marginalized. Jesus often went to the non-religious so that they too could live a life of faith. Why? To demonstrate that all people are worthy of God’s love, to show that all people are welcome in God’s family.

As Christians we are called to love God and to bring him our praise and worship as we lift his name on high. As Christians we are called to love neighbor as we minister to them in Jesus’ name. This also lifts his name on high. May we always seek to do both. Faith is not an either/or. As we love God and neighbor, we are living out our gospel imperative to transform the world. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, may my faith and love be clear to you and to the world. May my thoughts, words, and actions bring you the praise and glory. Amen.


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Arise, Beloved

Reading: Song of Songs 2: 8-13

Verse 10: “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

The Song of Songs is about love. On the literal level it is the story of young love, of courtship, of desire. In today’s six verses we see the beloved, the young woman, being sought by her lover. Twice in today’s passage he calls out, saying, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”. The earth itself is coming to life as spring begins. The flowers and vines are blossoming, the doves coo, the figs begin to form. Life is bursting all around. The two lovers can sense the energy in creation and want to be a part of that.

In the metaphorical sense, the Song of Songs is the story of how God seeks to be in relationship with us. This relationship is also built upon love. God’s love is not the “I love my brother” kind of love from childhood. It is not the pinky swear “I’ll do anything for my BFF” kind of adolescent love. It is not even the wild and passionate love of two twenty somethings who have fallen madly in love. Even this love pales in comparison to the love that God desires to lavish upon us. God’s love is unconditional, unfailing, unending. The best of human love is conditional, fickle, wavering.

God pursues us like the young man pursues his love. God leaps the mountains, walks across the seas, peers through any opening that he can find, calling out to each of us, his beloved. Today, be aware of how God is calling out to you, seeking to deepen your relationship with him. Will you arise and go with God?

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, make me aware of each way that you reach out to me today. Create in me a sensitive heart, a willing heart. Help me to take in and to pour out your love this day. Amen.


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Marked Beloved

Reading: Matthew 3: 13-17

Verse 16: “As soon as Jesus was baptized… he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him”.

John the Baptist has been in the wilderness, baptizing people in the Jordan River. He offers a baptism of repentance, helping people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. People confess their sins and commit to walking “straight paths”. This walk yields the “fruit in keeping with repentance” that John references. In our passage today, Jesus comes to be baptized. John has just finished explaining how he baptizes with water, but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. That is why John says in today’s text, “I need to be baptized by you”. Never mind that Jesus is without sin and does not “need” a baptism of repentance!

Jesus insists and John acquiesces, baptizing Jesus. Validation comes. In verse sixteen we read, “As soon as Jesus was baptized… he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him”. Jesus’ baptism is a sign that he is ready to begin to live a new life of obedience to God’s will and ways. It is a step to beginning his formal ministry. The voice of God responds with words of identification as God’s Son, the beloved. From this initial step, Jesus is led out into the wilderness for forty days. There Jesus is tempted by Satan.

Baptism today incorporates much of what we read in John 3. Many believe baptism is the “right” thing to do as one enters the Christian life. Water is still the medium and it still represents the cleansing of sin and the commitment to die to the old earthly self. One moves forward dedicated to walking out a life of faith. The Holy Spirit is a vital part of baptism today – it is what “lights” upon us as the seal of being marked as a son or daughter of God. The Holy Spirit enters the life of the baptized, much as it did when Jesus was baptized. Through baptism one is marked as a beloved member of the community of faith. After baptism one enters the world, prepared to daily battle with temptation and sin.

As we enter the world today may we remember our baptism and our place as beloved in the family of God. Be strengthened and encouraged today, for you are loved!

Prayer: God of all the beloved children, be present to me today as I enter the world. Lead and guide my words and actions. Keep me from temptation. Thank you for your love and acceptance. Amen.