pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Generous and Loving

Reading: Mark 7: 31-37

Verse 32: “There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.”

Photo credit: Matt Botsford

In today’s passage Jesus heads back towards the Sea of Galilee. As he enters the region known as the Decapolis he encounters some family and/or friends of a man in need of healing. Jesus is still in Gentile lands. The Decapolis was a league of ten cities that united for protection against Israel’s dominance. With the current Roman occupation there wasn’t much need to withstand Israel. Yet tensions remained high between the Jews and Gentiles. Even so, a family member’s or friend’s needs rise above these barriers or obstacles. In verse 32 we read, “There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.” One with the ability to heal is present. Jesus must see this man. As only Jesus could do, he heals the man. The people are overwhelmed with amazement.

The man in need did not have to do anything. The one with something to give gave. This person in need was given what he lacked – the ability to hear and speak. The concept of the one who has caring deeply for the one without is deeply rooted in the scriptures. Jesus does not see this man as a Gentile but as a beloved and valued child of God. As was the case up the road in Tyre, Jesus offers what he can to the one in need. Note that there are no strings attached. The man did not have to first profess faith in Jesus. He did not have to become a Jew first. There were no expectations laid out beforehand for life after the miracle. This too is a good lesson for us all.

To share what we have been blessed or gifted with, to offer it without conditions or expectations in return – this is the heart of the gospel, the heart of what it means to love our neighbors. As we walk this journey of faith, may we be so generous and so loving that others see Christ in us.

Prayer: Lord God, your heart for all people is again revealed in today’s passage. There were no “but…” or “first you must…” demands. Jesus simply gave what he had. Shape my heart into this kind of heart. Amen.


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Maker of All

Reading: Proverbs 22: 1-2

Verse 2: “Rich and poor have this in common: the Lord is maker of them all”.

Photo credit: Stephen Leonardi

As we begin in Proverbs 22 today Solomon elevates character over wealth. In the opening verse he says it is more important to have a “good name” and to be “esteemed” or well thought of than it is to be wealthy. To have good character is important both in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of God. We are drawn to people who are honest, upright, genuine, sincere, humble, dependable. We ourselves strive to be this kind of person. Almost everyone wants to have a good name and to be esteemed by others.

I taught middle school for twenty years at a school in the downtown area of a small city. On occasion in my early years I would walk someplace after school and I would encounter a homeless person. Soon I was crossing the street or doing other things to avoid such people. My thoughts were never kind, always judgmental and critical. Then our church opened a day center for those struggling with issues of poverty and homelessness. Through some initial interactions and then volunteering at the center once a week, God changed my heart. As soon got to know many of the guests, I came to see that those I had judged and shunned were, in most ways, a lot like me. I came to see we were much more alike than different. Some had struggles that were different than mine, but inside each was a child of God, beloved and valued by God. Over the years I developed friendships with many guests and still enjoy reconnecting with them when the opportunity arises.

In verse two we read, “Rich and poor have this in common: the Lord is maker of them all”. I am very grateful that God taught me this lesson in a personal way. We could and should add to this verse too: black and white, men and women, native and immigrant… All people are creations of God. All people are beloved by God and all are deserving of our love. With all we meet this day and each day, may this be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the change that you wrought in my heart. As I still judge or am critical of others at times, continue to shape and refine me, drawing me closer to what you want me to be. Help me to love unconditionally and without limit. Amen.


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Forever Love

Reading: Psalm 89: 20-37

Verse 24: “My faithful love will be with him, and through my name his strength will be exalted”.

Photo credit: Pat Whelen

In our Psalm today God’s covenant with David and with Israel is celebrated. Early in his life David was identified by God and was anointed with sacred oil by Samuel the prophet. From that day on, the Spirit of God was with David. In most Christian denominations today, this idea of anointing is mirrored in our sacrament of baptism. As a baby in some traditions or as a believer in other traditions, we “anoint” a person with water, marking them as a child of God. We believe that the Holy Spirit becomes a part of that person’s life in and through the waters of baptism.

In today’s Psalm, the covenant is God’s steadfast and forever promise of his love. In verse 24 we read, “My faithful love will be with him, and through my name his strength will be exalted”. God’s love will endure, strengthening David and his line. In verse 27 we gain understanding of the ‘forever’ part of the covenant. Here God tells us that he will “appoint my firstborn” to David’s line and that his Son will be “the most exalted of the kings of the earth”. Jesus Christ is the one at whose name “every knee shall bow” (Romans 14:11). In and through Jesus, the “covenant with him will never fail”. Thanks be to God!

In the next few verses God acknowledges that David’s sons (and humanity in general) will “forsake my law” and will “violate my decrees”. Yes, God will punish the sin but he will not take his love away or betray his faithfulness. God reiterates that the covenant will remain forever. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are part of this covenant too. Sealed with the Holy Spirit at our baptism, we are marked as beloved and chosen sons and daughters of God. Again, today we say thanks be to God for his covenant, forever love of you and me.

Prayer: Lord God, like with David, you lay claim to each of us. Like with David, you declare unending love for each of us. The indwelling Spirit is the constant presence of our inheritance, our eternal place within your love. Thank you for choosing us as a part of your forever family. Amen.


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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.