pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Rejoice with Me!

Reading: Luke 15:1-10

Verse 9: “And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my list coin'”.

Today we return to the parables of the lost sheep and coin recorded in Luke 15. In both stories someone goes to great lengths to find that which was lost. These great efforts are given because the lost must be found. A great joy is shared when the lost are found and there is also a celebration in heaven over the one that is found. These two parables and the one that follows in Luke 15 are beautiful illustrations of how God seeks, searched, woos, and finds the lost, finishing it all off with a grand celebration.

Once upon a time there was such a party in heaven for you and for me. On the day that we committed to die to self, to repent of our sins, and to follow Jesus Christ as the Lord of our lives, all of heaven celebrated extravagantly. The funny thing, though, is that we don’t get found just once. We wander over and over. We get lost in our sin again and again. God keeps seeking, searching, wooing… Confession and repentance are constant and ongoing. We are flawed creatures. Yet every time a sinner repents, a celebration is raised in heaven. Fire up the band!

These two parables and the awesome image of joyous celebration were told in response to some grumbling about who Jesus was associating with. Where do we fit in the story? Are we the grumbler or are we the joyous partier? If we tend to stay in the perimeter, judging or avoiding those who are ‘lost,’ then we are the Pharisees… If we are willing and seek to get our hands dirty, so to speak, to engage the sinners, wanderers, and others who are lost, then we experience the joy and celebrations that Jesus speaks of today. The joy and the celebrations are here and now and are one day in heaven when Jesus says to us, “Rejoice with me!”

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be one who engages all with a no-matter-what love. All are creations of your mighty hand. All are beloved fully by your gigantic love. Help me to mirror this so that everyone I meet will hear the invitation that you give to all. Amen.


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Ready and Prepared

Reading: Luke 12:35-40

Verse 37: “It will be good for those servants who master finds them watching when he comes.”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

Today’s passage reminds me of a saying I heard versions of in scouts and in athletics – always be ready. In scouts it was along the lines of “always be prepared.” Whether heading out on a camping trip or sitting on the sidelines during a game, one must be focused and paying attention. One must be prepared to engage right away when our name is called. Coaches called that “keeping your head in the game.” If one wasn’t ready and prepared, then someone else would step into our place.

In today’s passage Jesus invites the disciples to always be ready for when the “Son of Man” comes. The parable speaks of servants who are at home, waiting for their master to return. In verse 37 Jesus declares, “It will be good for those servants who master finds them watching when he comes.” The master will be pleased if we are ready and prepared when he comes. At the point of seeing the clouds roll away at the trumpets’ blasts it will be too late to start preparing.

For those found watching and ready, the master will become the servant. This brings to mind images from the Last Supper, where Jesus washed the disciples’ feet as an example of humble service. It also guides us in how to wait for Jesus’ return. We are to be prepared by being in active service to others. This readies us for the inbreaking of Christ’s reign. If we live out his love here and now, building the kingdom here on earth, humbling serving others, we will be watching and ready when he returns. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, help me this day to be a servant. Open my eyes to see places and ways to serve others. Guide my hands and feet to step into those opportunities. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Trust into God’s Plan

Reading: Acts 9:10-20

Verse 13: “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.”

As our story continues in Acts 9, Ananias also receives a visit from the Lord. He is called to go to a home where he will find Saul. Saul will be expecting him. Ananias is to lay hands on him to heal Saul’s blindness. Say what?! That is pretty much Ananias’ response: “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.” Ananias is well aware of Saul’s reputation.

In your life, who has the Holy Spirit led you towards that you would consider dangerous or evil or otherwise difficult to go to? Over the years the Spirit has led me to folks I’d rather not engage. God always has a purpose. Sometimes it is for me and sometimes it is for the other. When were you last led towards a Saul?

God lets Ananias know that there is a purpose. God has selected Saul as his “chosen instrument” to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the known world. What a role reversal! Going from one with great zeal to keep the circle drawn really tight to one who will invite one and all into Jesus’ love. Bam! Once again God strikes.

Would’ve anyone possibly seen this coming? No. That is often how God works. So the next time that you or I are led to one we’d rather not see, may we too trust into God’s plan.

Prayer: Lord God, your plans and wisdom are far greater than mine. Nothing is impossible with you. Help me today to trust your plans and to step into your wisdom. Amen.


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Dwelling Richly, Intimately

Reading: Psalm 27:1-6

Verse 4: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”

Photo credit: Matt Botsford

In this week’s Psalm David rejoices over God’s presence in his life and he expresses the desire to always be ‘at home’ in the Lord. With God, David finds light to guide him and salvation for his soul. With God David finds protection and shelter from his enemies. David’s end result in our verses for today is to “sing and make music to the Lord” – to worship God for all that God does for and is to David.

When David says, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” he is expressing a deep desire to connect to God both physically and spiritually. The tabernacle (and later the temple) was literally seen as God’s dwelling place. Just as we go to our churches to connect to God, David desires to spend time in ‘God’s house.’ But one cannot realistically spend all of one’s time in the tabernacle or at church. Life and faith also happen outside the physical building.

When we are ‘at home’ with God, whether in our churches or in our homes or out in the mountains or walking the streets, that time with God fills us spiritually. When we “gaze upon” God’s beauty and when we “sacrifice with shouts of joy” we are living out our faith. Sometimes when we do these things we aren’t in church but are out in the world, engaging others and meeting needs. We are extending the light and salvation, the protection and shelter to others. We are sharing the love of God with a world in need. Doing so, “all the days of my life,” we are dwelling richly and intimately with God, “making music to the Lord.” Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you fill me up. Pour me out as well. Your light dwells in my heart. Shine it out into the world. You are my salvation and my hope. Reflect your love into the lives of others so that they too may know your saving grace and your eternal presence. Amen.


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This Ruler

Reading: Micah 5: 2-5a

Verses 4-5: “He will stand and shepherd his flock… And he will be their peace.”

Photo credit: Hans Heiner Buhr

Micah writes in chapter five of the promised ruler that will come from Bethlehem. Even though “small among the clans,” one who will rule over Israel will be born here. This will be no ordinary king. No, this ruler will be one “whose origins are from old, from days of eternity.” This ruler will be one who was present before time began and who will reign forever.

Micah also describes this ruler’s reign: “He will stand and shepherd his flock.” This king will be like a shepherd, like one who tends the flock. This will not be a ruler who reigns from the throne in the palace. This ruler will be right there with the people – spending cold nights out in the fields, seeking shelter under trees and in caves when the rains come. This ruler will do anything to protect, to lead, to guide the flock. This ruler will know what it is like to be one of the flock, so personal and intimate will their connection be.

Because of this ruler’s great love, the flock will be secure. This ruler’s greatness will “reach the ends of the earth.” There are parts of the kingdom present all around the world. In every nation are followers who bow at the mention of his great name. In the last verse we read, “And he will be their peace.” No, this ruler does not shield the flock from all of the dangers and difficulties of the world. This ruler does not lock the flock up behind impregnable walls, insulating them from the world. Just the opposite: this ruler sends the flock out into the world to engage it, to interact with it, to live among the pain, the brokenness, the hurting – just as he did when he walked the earth. It is sometimes scary or dangerous or uncomfortable. But this ruler sends the flock our covered in his peace.

The Good Shepherd continues to send us, the flock, out into the world, bringing his peace and great love with us. As we go forth today may we seek to bring the peace and love of Christ to all we meet, connecting them to the one born in a manger in little Bethlehem. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, under your gentle guidance and strong protection, lead me out today. Help me to see all people as potential members of the flock. Use my words and actions to draw others inside the circle of your love and peace. Amen.


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Even in This

Reading: 1st Samuel 8: 10-20

Verse 18: “You will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day”.

Photo credit: Nick Fewings

After God acquiesces to the people’s request for a king, God gives some words of warning to the people. Yes, a king can bring stability and leadership and authority to the nation. Yes, a king can negotiate with other kings and can lead the troops out into battle when needed. A king can fight for the people! But a king can also demand or, at times, take when the demands are not met. A king can call for military service and can seize land, crops, livestock, and servants. A king can tax the people to support his reign. A judge or prophet would never do any of these things. The leader that the people reject, God, would never do any of these things. Yet the people want a king.

All of this, both the good and the bad, comes true as king after king leads Israel. Reading through 1st and 2nd Kings, we see that God is right. There are more bad kings than good kings. The fate and the lives of the people rise or fall under the leadership of each king. Yet even though the people reject God in favor of a king, God remains engaged. Even though God grants them this autonomy, God does not abandon his children. God continues to send prophets to guide and redirect and shepherd these kings. God even chooses the first few kings.

God leads you and me in the same way. God does not force us to love and obey him or to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. God engages us, the Spirit leads and guides us. But we are free to choose our own kings, our own gods. God allows us free will, just as he did with the Israelites. God warned them, saying, “You will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day”. When leadership is oppressive, selfish, authoritarian… God will allow them to learn their lesson. In time God will respond to their cries. We too experience this process. We have to endure a consequence for our poor choices. God will always forgive us when we’re repentant. But our poor choices and bad behaviors often impact others, creating ramifications. We too must go through a refining and learning process. Even in this, God is at work. Thanks be to God for loving us enough to always be there on the other side.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, your love always leads and informs. Your love is greater than our limitations and failures. We are ever a work in progress. You are so patient, so faithful, ever true. What a wonderful God you are! Amen.


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Only with God

Reading: Psalm 70

Verse 5: “I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and deliverer”.

David begins Psalm 70 with a cry for help. Enemies are pressing in on him. They seek to put him to shame, to ruin his life. At times we have probably experienced these situations. If we are living out our faith, it will happen from time to time. Being the light sometimes draws a reaction from the darkness. David turns to God and asks for God’s help. He does not strike back physically or with harsh words. David does not engage them in battle but asks God to take up his cause. It is hard to walk this path. It is difficult to hold the tongue, to stay the anger and hurt. It is also the way of Christ. As we walk with Jesus through these next two holy days, we will see Christ model full trust in God.

In verse four David chooses to seek and to praise God. Instead of hiding his faith, instead of withdrawing from it to avoid those who insult and abuse him, David stands, lifts his arms, and praises the God of his salvation. He sings aloud, “Let God be exalted”! Knowing God’s love and salvation should lead us to praise God as well. In those moments of difficulty, singing a few verses of “How Great Thou Art” or “10,000 Reasons” or your favorite hymn or praise song draws us into God’s presence and reassures us of his great love.

The Psalm closes in honest humility. Turning to God in prayer, David says, “I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and deliverer”. Only with God can David get through this time of trial. Again, as we will see with Jesus, only with God can he face the betrayal, the arrest, the trial, the insults, the denial, the flogging, the shame, and the cross. Only with God. As we too face times of criticism or abuse or accusation or affliction may we too turn only to God. Only with God will we be able to walk the hard and narrow roads of faith and love.

Prayer: Loving God, I rejoice and praise your holy name! Your love for me is so great. You have walked with me, carrying me at times, through every trial. All praise and glory are yours, O God! When the hard days come again, may I trust fully in you. Only with you can I walk the valleys. Amen.


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Questionable

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-25

Verse 23: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles”.

Photo credit: Taylor Smith

Paul is writing in today’s passage to a church that needs some words of wisdom concerning the idea of a crucified Messiah. These last two words just don’t make sense, they just do not fit together in many people’s minds. For Paul this is the overall message of the cross: Jesus died for you and for me. To those who believe that Jesus loved us enough to die for us, the cross offers the power of salvation and of eternal life. But if you cannot wrap your head around that gift and what it means and gives to the believer, then placing one’s trust and life in Jesus’ hands makes no sense.

In verse 23 Paul writes, “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles”. The Jews, for the most part, saw Jesus as a good teacher, as one that inspired many people to a better life, as one who even did some amazing things (miracles). But Jesus was not the Messiah that they envisioned. A real Messiah would never allow himself to be crucified. A real king would not eat with sinners, heal on the Sabbath, regularly engage the outcasts and unclean… All of these things were stumbling blocks to most of the Jews. The Gentiles (read ‘Romans’ or ‘pagans’ here) worshiped many gods and saw the cross as the place of punishment for the worst criminals. To cast one’s life in with the lot of a mere human, one that died with such shame and so powerless – foolishness!

As Christians living in today’s world, sometimes we should be stumbling blocks to some, foolishness to others. For our Lenten series this year, we are calling this “living highly questionable lives”. Last week I read a story about a high school basketball player. During a game he noticed that a player on the other team was wearing shoes that were not suitable for basketball. After the game he took off his shoes and have them to this other player. To some this appeared as foolish. To others it may have been a stumbling block. But to those also touched by Jesus Christ that night, it was the love of God being lived out in a real way.

As we encounter those who see our faith as foolish or as a stumbling block to their preferred way of life, may the Spirit give us the words or actions that preaches the cross in a way that reveals the courage and strength of our faith in the Messiah.

Prayer: Loving God, use me today to reveal my faith in ways that draw others into conversation. Let me love so completely that the other is willing to look past what at first seems foolish or to step over what may initially feel like a stumbling block. May the power of the cross draw them in. May it be so. Amen.


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The Image of…

Reading: Matthew 22: 19-21

Verse 21: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”.

Today’s short passage reminds me of the saying, ‘In the world but not of the world’. As Christians we know that this place is not our home. Yet we also clearly see in Jesus’ example and teaching that our task as disciples is to engage the world – especially the spaces and places where God’s love can bring healing and wholeness and community. Jesus sought to bring people into the circle of God’s love. As he departed this world he gave us instructions to do the same as we seek to make disciples of all people.

In the first half of today’s key verse, Jesus calls us to respect our earthly authorities. It does not matter if they are oppressive and insure that peace is kept via the threat of violence. It does not matter that they worship different gods. It doesn’t even matter that it will be Romans who whip him and drive nails through his hands and feet. The Romans are in authority. God has allowed them that role for a season. Therefore, “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. This same concept applies today. None of us totally agrees with our bosses or teachers or leaders, but we are called upon to respect them, to pray for them, to honor them – whether or not they totally align with our values and beliefs.

Hard as this may be at times, the second half of this verse is even more challenging to truly live out. [“Give unto] God what is God’s”. Well, it all belongs to God. Without God we would not draw breath or inhabit these bodies. Without God we would not know true peace, joy, hope, love, comfort, contentment, grace, mercy… All that we have and all that we are belongs to God. This is what Jesus Christ is calling us to give – our all. Yes, this is a struggle. I fail every day in many ways. Sometimes it is withholding something small that I hope God doesn’t notice, sometimes my rebellion is more out in the open. What then? What then? The Holy Spirit intercedes. Sometimes quietly, sometimes with more conviction than I think I can bear at the time. The Holy Spirit reminds me of who I am and of whose I am. Yes, I am created in the image of God, just as you are. But the mirror works both ways. God sees in us the image of his son. God sees in us one of his children. In endless love, God calls us back into right relationship, back into our place in the family. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, it is good to be reminded that I am a beloved child of yours. It is a blessing to be a part of your family, where love reigns over all, covers over all, sustains all. Help me to reflect and share that love each day as I seek to make you known. Amen.


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Love Revealed

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 20: “They all ate and were satisfied”.

The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 reveals God’s love in and through Jesus Christ. God’s love is expressed in many ways. That tends to just be how God’s love is.

First and in spite of sensing his own need to grieve, Jesus sees a group of people with needs and he has compassion for them. It is a great example of the selfless love that God has for us. In love, Jesus always places the needs of others ahead of his own needs. He gets out of the boat and engages the crowd.

Second, Jesus’ compassion leads him to heal many in the crowd. This is why the crowds came. Sometimes when I am interrupted or when my plans are derailed, the last thing I want to do is to fully meet the need of the other. Not Jesus. There is no hesitation and he heals everyone there that afternoon. Jesus’ healing touch shared God’s love with many.

The third demonstration of God’s love comes as Jesus pushes the disciples to deeper faith. For faith to grow one must push the edges, one must step out in faith. Sometimes it is another that must do that for us. Here Jesus plays that role. Like a parent or coach or mentor who challenges us to do more than we think we are capable of, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowd themselves. Then he leads them in accomplishing the task at hand. Love sometimes challenges us.

The fourth demonstration of God’s love comes in the depth of the provision. In verse twenty we read, “They all ate and were satisfied”. Jesus did not just take the edge off their hunger so that they could get home to eat. He fully satisfied their hunger.

The last demonstration of God’s love comes in who Jesus fed. He didn’t separate out those with faith so he could just feed them. He didn’t just feed the men – those whom society would deem worthy of being cared for. Jesus fed one and all – even those others treated as less than. Jesus’ love is universal, offered to one and all.

God’s love is selfless and compassionate. God’s love brings healing and sustenance. God’s love will challenge us at times and will meet our deepest needs at other times. God’s love is ever present and always willing to engage even the least of these. May we ever practice this love well in our lives.

Prayer: O God of love, help me to love like Jesus loved in this miracle story. May I give far more than I take. May my heart love all I encounter. May your love within my soul continue to grow and push my faith further. Lead me in love. Amen.