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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Your Way, Father God

Reading: Philippians 2: 1-13

Verse 5: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”.

Today’s passage is confusing to many in the world and counter-cultural in many societies. It always has been. Early on we learned to do well, to excel if possible. In school we quickly learned who the smartest were. Whenever a spelling quiz or multiplication test was passed back, all glanced around to see who had the 100%. On the fields and in the band rooms those who were picked first for the team or who occupied first chair were seen as the goal. As life continued, the world continued to teach us to rise up, to be popular, to keep buying bigger and better. Even in Jesus’ day there was a clear social hierarchy. The Jews, Jesus’ people, saw themselves as far superior to all others. They were, after all, God’s chosen people.

So where in the world did this Jesus come from? Why would he come to this people – and continue to seek to come into worldly people’s lives – with the call to “consider others better than yourselves”? Being the fastest or strongest or best anything wasn’t even on Jesus’ radar. Owning a huge flock of sheep or a big cabinetry factory never drew a second of his attention. Jesus did not care what others thought of him. Accordingly, Jesus chose to take on “the very nature of a servant”. Instead of being a powerful ruler by the world’s standards, Jesus became a conquering servant. Instead of looking at how he climb up the social and political and economic and religious ladders, he sought to dismantle the ladders. Instead of seeking to work his way into the “right” circles, Jesus sought to bring all into his circle. Instead of saying “My way”, Jesus said, “Your way, Father God”.

Jesus was love and obedience lived out. May we each seek to follow Paul’s call day by day: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”.

Prayer: Living God, lead me today to walk humbly. May I see others and their needs before considering my own. Guide me in the ways of Jesus, your humble servant, my example. Amen.


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Our Battle

Reading: Psalm 149: 5-9

Verse 6: “May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands”.

The Psalm that opens talking about singing, rejoicing, and praising God appears to take a turn in verse six. It begins with “the praise of God” but then a “double-edged sword” enters the picture. There is a call to action in the second half of the Psalm. The praise and worship must always lead to some sort of action. Faith must affect and effect us. In the Psalm there is vengeance and punishment and carrying out of sentences. Taken at face value, it is violent and perhaps offends readers today.

In literal terms, warfare and battle and violence were much more common in ancient times. For Israel, there were clear lines between themselves and the rest of the world. Many of the laws given by God kept the Israelites within their own community. To venture into the world risked being led astray, being made unclean. Even in the New Testament there is an “us versus them” feel hanging in the air every time words like “Gentile” and “Samaritan” are used. For Israel, they were led by God. Guidance, direction, action came through a prophet or by seeking God in prayer. The “carrying out the sentence” would be that which came from God. As the people of God entered the Promised Land, there was much “carrying out the sentence” against the people’s who had inhabited the land “flowing with milk and honey”. They did not go willingly or peaceably.

In the New Testament the writer of Hebrews references a double-edged sword. In chapter four it is described as the word of God. It pierces “soul from spirit” and it “judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart”. It is a refining and purifying action being described by the author. Taken in this sense, for us the sword would slash through the sin and evil in our hearts, much as the Israelites’ swords defended them from the evil in the world around them. We too seek to “bind up” those things that seek to sit on the throne of our heart, replacing Jesus as Lord. Our “sentence” is to live as Christ, being light and love in the world. In doing so we too experience the “glory of the saints”. Our battle is not with flesh and blood but with the dark powers of this world. May we too emerge victorious, singing praises to God as the Lord leads the way.

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, lead me to triumph over all that seeks to separate me from you. Help me see what is within that needs to die; be a hedge about me, keeping me from the evils of this world. Fill me with Holy Spirit power for the battle belongs to the Lord. Amen.


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Merciful God

Reading: Romans 11: 1-2a and 29-32

Verse 1: “I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means”!

At times the news can be so hard to listen to. In this pandemic time we have all had moments or days or even weeks when the news of rising death tolls and of new spreading of COVID has left us empty, downcast, anxious. We, like many, have sometimes questioned where God is in the midst of all this. Has God finally rejected humanity? Paul asks this type of question.

Paul has just finished lamenting Israel’s unbelief. While some Jews have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, the vast majority have not. What had been a very tight circle that included just one nation has been opened wide as Christianity has spread to the edges of the known world. The Gentiles and potentially the whole world has been grafted into God’s family. It feels as if almost all of Israel is now on the outside looking in instead of being the only ones inside. Paul turns to this question: “Did God reject his people”? In essence, has God moved on?

God has fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Jesus Christ was born, lived among the Jews, taught of God’s love. He was crucified and buried. Jesus was resurrected. Right before their eyes the Messiah, the incarnate God, came, lived, and returned to the Father. Paul hypothetically wonders if the Jews have missed out. His response to the question is very decisive: “By no means”! God remains the God of Israel. And God is the God of a much larger family too.

Paul goes on that the rejection of Jesus is just one more season of disobedience. As God has always done, God will continue to be faithful, seeking ways to be merciful anyway. This too is our experience with God. On a regular basis we reject God, we are disobedient. Yet God still loves us. God still seeks to be merciful, to draw us back into relationship. God ever desires to wash us clean with his mercy. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Supremely loving and merciful God, thank you for your love and mercy. How do I say more? Thank you, thank you, thank you. Amen.


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That Whoever Believes…

Reading: John 3: 1-17

Verse 16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life”.

Nicodemus is a man steeped in religious knowledge. His head is full of a lot of information. He lives mostly in the world of his head, but something is tugging at his heart. That is why he has come to see Jesus. His mind cannot identify the feeling he has but it cannot deny it either. We all have been where Nicodemus is. We want to try and think our way through it, but we cannot. We must experience it by allowing ourselves to feel it. Too often our reaction is to resist or deny or avoid. To go where the Spirit is leading is unknown, out of control, scary – so we do not allow ourselves to go there.

In today’s passage Jesus drives the conversation with Nicodemus. The Pharisee struggles with the idea of being born of the Spirit. Yes, the Old Testament speaks of a prophet who was guided by or even carried by the Spirit. But to be born again? To be born of the Spirit? Being made new and becoming part of God’s family sounds so familiar to our ears. But consider Nicodemus’ context for a moment. He was a part of Judaism since birth. There was no need for rebirth – you were born into the Jewish faith. No outreach or evangelism branch exists in the temple. The circle was closed. Converting to Judaism is a much more modern phenomena. In Nicodemus’ day one was either born a Jew or one was a Gentile. To be born again, into the family of God, just would not fit their context.

So Jesus shifts gears. He sees this is too big a step for Nicodemus to take at once. So he plants a seed. In verse fourteen Jesus connects what Moses offered in the desert to what he will offer from the cross. Nicodemus does not get it yet. But he will one day. In the desert Moses offered relief from the consequences of their sin. Look up at the snake and be saved from this sin. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he will also be lifted up, not just to atone for one sin but for all sins. He tells him that all who look in faith to Jesus can have eternal life. Jesus sums up his mission in verses sixteen and seventeen. Out of love Jesus came to save us from sin and death. All who believe in him as Lord and Savior will receive the gift of eternal life. Jesus shares that he did not come to condemn the world but to save it. Through Christ, God offers love and mercy, grace and forgiveness, and the promise of eternal life in his presence. This is offered to one and all. Jesus came to save the whole world. In parting he asked all disciples to join him in this task. May we do so each and every day.

Prayer: Loving God, as I enter the day, may I be light and love in the places I dwell. May I be the light that shines the focus on your Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ. To you be the glory! Amen.


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To Love

Readings: Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Psalm 119:1-8

Verse 16: “For I command you today to love the Lord your God… then you will live and increase”.

Both the passage from Deuteronomy 30 and the one from Psalm 119 call us to walk in God’s ways. Both speak of life or blessings or prosperity or obedience as the goal. Both also warn of the cost of deciding not to walk upright and blameless. There is a clear call to make the choice to walk with God. It is a choice we must make over and over as the lures and temptations of this world are ever before us.

Walking daily with the Lord is the goal but it is not as easy as a paint-by-numbers project. It is not like when we were children and we tried to take giant steps to walk in someone’s footprints. We are called not to a set pattern or to a predetermined path but to a lifestyle built on loving God and loving one another. To me the first is often easier than the second. God is fully good and loving and holy. God is steadfast and true. I, like the rest of humanity, am not always good and loving and… I get selfish. I get jealous. I can be hard to love at times.

Both Moses and the psalmist call for us to follow the commands, decrees, laws, statutes. From the Old Testament perspective this was the understanding. Keep all the rules and receive God’s blessings. As the Bible moves into the New Testament we see that this task has become burdensome. The Pharisees and other religious leaders have become legalistic. Religion has become a huge code to follow and the connection to God’s heart has paid the price. It has made the circle smaller. Jesus reveals a better way. Jesus took the two great commands – to love God and to love one another – seriously. Jesus entered into life with people, engaging them where they were at both spirituality and physically. Out there, in the midst of life, it was often messy. When we are willing to walk in Jesus’way, letting love of God and love of one another guide us, it might get messy for us too. I’d rather be in a messy place filled with love than in a nice, clean, tidy box filled with rules. How about you?

Loving God, your love is so expansive. The deeper I peer into your heart, the greater the love. In your son’s life I so clearly see the call to love the marginalized and the overlooked. Yes, it was messy. But that didn’t bother Jesus in the least. Help me to feel the same way. Amen.


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True Servants

Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Verse 6: “I will also make you a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”.

Isaiah’s servant song, when read through our New Testament lens, sounds like Jesus. Called long before he was physically born, sword in mouth that cuts through all religious airs and gets to the heart of loving God fully. A polished arrow that surely hits the mark, convicting us of our sin every time. As the servant did, at times Jesus felt as if laboring in vain. More than once he laments over the rejection and hard hearts; more than once he critiques the disciples lack of understanding. He realizes the outcome as described by Isaiah: “my reward is with God”. Jesus returns to the Father to reign forever.

In verse six God pries open the circle a bit. It is not enough for Jesus to go just to the Israelites. In the second half of this verse we read, “I will also make you a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”. In comparison to the world, at that time Israel was small. God’s chosen people were a small segment of humanity. To go to the “ends of the world” was a radical shift in the mission field. Much of the Old Testament law functioned as a means of keeping Israel set apart from the outside world. God also directed some measures early on to insure this. Research the conquest of the Promised Land if you want to know more about this. By Jesus’ day the religious establishment defended itself fiercely. There is no shortage of Jesus clashing with religious leaders concerning the size of his circle – the degree to which he would engage and love the “other”. Eat with sinners?! Allow a prostitute to touch you?! Yes, the religious powers wanted to keep the circle drawn in very tight. Verse seven references all of this: “despised and abhorred by the nation”.

In our Christian life we are called to mirror this opening up of the circle. After being drawn into a relationship with Jesus Christ, we are called to die to self. This act ceases our circle of one as we are led to think of others and their needs before considering our own. We are also called to pick up our cross and to follow Jesus. This means we will do as our example did, suffering for others. These things are what a true servant does. On our journey, we too will be despised when we follow Jesus closely. Jesus is not of the world. He is foolishness to all who live for self and for the things of the world. The servant came for all. One day kings and princes will kneel. May this be our posture every day.

Prayer: Father of all nations and all people, guide me today to love as widely and unconditionally as the model did. Through my words and actions, whatever is needed, may I be a light in the darkness of the world. In humility and submission I kneel before your throne, asking for you to use me as you will today. Amen.


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Push Us

Reading: Acts 10: 34-43

Verses 34-35: “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right”.

In our passage today, Peter reveals a heart that has witnessed the widening of God’s circle. Early on in his days following Jesus he was more focused on the chosen people, the Jews. Even though Peter was present when many Samaritans came to believe in Jesus after he spoke to the women at the well, his circle was still small. In Acts 10, Peter has a vision and a powerful moment that leads him to say, “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right”. In this experience God will even challenge Peter’s notion of what is right. (In the reminder of chapter ten the Holy Spirit comes upon the Gentiles before they are baptized – not the “normal” order!)

Peter’s mind and, more importantly, his heart were changed when he allowed himself to be open to God’s voice in the visions and when he followed where God led. Once in a position to do so, Peter shared the good news with his Gentile audience. As God opened up Peter’s circle he came to understand what Jesus really meant by “go and make disciples of all people”. This would not have been possible if Peter was not willing to consider that God might just be doing a new thing in and through him. If Peter stayed stuck in his old understanding of God’s love, he would never have encountered Cornelius and family.

This leads me to wonder: when have I tried to stay in my comfort zone, avoiding the new thing that God is trying to do? When have I been hesitant to see how God is moving and opening up the path to faith to someone I do not think is worthy or ready or acceptable? Sometimes what I have understood previously has been the thing that kept me within my own little circle. At other times my stereotypes and preconceived ideas have been my barrier.

God pushed Peter to new people and to a new understanding of just how big God’s love is. It happened because Peter allowed himself to be pushed. May we each allow God to push us today.

Prayer: Loving Father, your love knows no bounds, does it? You see one and all as worthy of your love. Who and what they are or have been does not matter to you. A heart turned towards you is simply the starting point for us all. Help me today to better be your love in the world. Make my love a love for one and all, Lord. Allow me to follow closer. Amen.


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Praise the Lord!

Reading: Psalm 147: 12-20

Verse 15: “He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly”.

Our Psalm of praise comes from a time of joy and draws praise for God. The exile has ended and the people are back in the Promised Land. Jerusalem and Zion extol their praise to God. God has restored them, has strengthened their gates, and has provided them with the finest wheat. It is indeed a time to praise the Lord!

Fresh from the consequential time in exile, the people of Israel reconnect to God and to the law. In verse fifteen we read, “He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly”. The people rejoice now in what was rejected just a couple of generations before. The psalmist compares God’s word to the snow and hail that completely covers the land. But the word and the law are not hard or burdensome. Through understanding the precepts flow and bring life to the people. The psalmist rejoices in Israel’s role as God’s chosen people. To them alone has God revealed the word and the law.

Reading today’s passage from a 21st century Christian lens, we understand that the fuller revelation of God has expanded the circle greatly. The direct descendants of Abraham are not the only people to enjoy the word of God. Jesus Christ revealed the breadth and depth of God’s love as he broke down barriers and defeated the power of sin that had so long kept God’s children enslaved. Jesus burst the circle wide open as he sent the disciples to all people and to all nations. The incarnate word of God was not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles, for the slaves and the free, for men and women,… Because we too have been drawn into the circle of God’s love in Jesus Christ, we praise God for his word that guides us as well as for the gift of the Holy Spirit that leads us. With all that we are, may we too praise the Lord!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, your love continues to extend. Through Jesus Christ it has grown to encompass even sinners like me. As the disciples of Jesus Christ continue to carry the good news to every corner of the world and to each neighborhood in our communities, your love continues to grow. Use me today to share the good news with others. Amen.


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Produce Fruit

Reading: Matthew 3: 7-12

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.

Many people were coming out into the wilderness to see John the Baptist. It was your typical Sunday morning crowd this day in Matthew 3. Many came to hear John’s call to repentance and to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan River, symbolizing being made clean. Some came to support those making a choice to seek a new life. They had walked the narrow road since coming to see John themselves. Some came because they thought they should. Their minds were on a million other things and their hearts were even further from faith in God. But this day, some came to see the show. They would gather later, to ridicule it within the safety of their little circle.

This day the usual preaching and baptizing comes to a screeching halt as John yells out, “You brood of vipers”! I bet you could have heard a pin drop. He asks them who warned them to “flee from the coming wrath”? He is calling them out for coming to the river and then returning to their unrepentant lives later that afternoon. The Pharisees and Sadducees do not even think about stepping into the river. Why would they?

This would be like our communion stewards going to someone who remained in the pew instead of coming forward and being told, “No thanks. I’m good – haven’t sinned since I took communion last month”. We may be taken aback by such a thought, but there will be folks who move with the crowd, who take communion and just go through the motions. They will move through the line, they will take the bread and the juice, without ever searching their hearts, without ever seeking to repent of their sins. They will go through the motions planning on returning to life as it was.

John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. Live lives that look like you have repented of your sins. Live lives that look like you love God and neighbor more than you love yourself. Don’t just appear to love God and neighbor. Really love them in concrete and practical ways. Love God and neighbor in ways that make them feel loved by you.

John proclaims that one day Jesus will “gather his wheat into the barn”. Live lives worthy of being gathered into Jesus’ barn. Produce fruit that builds the kingdom of God both in your heart and in the hearts of others.

Prayer: Lord, show me today how to love you more and to love others more. Convict me when I fall short of what you call me to. Guide me by your Holy Spirit to be your love in the world today. Amen.