pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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Drawing In

Reading: John 4: 5-26

Verse 9: “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”?

The conversation in today’s passage is refreshing. Two people who do not previously know each other have an open and honest conversation. Wouldn’t it be nice if people who know each other could have at least this open and honest of a conversation? Let’s see how that may be possible.

The conversation we read in John 4 is honest and allows space for the other to speak and be heard. The woman is coming to the well alone in the sixth hour, which would be noon for us. All the other women came as a group in the early morning, in the cool of the day. As they came, drew water, and returned to the village they would have talked and caught up with one another. The woman at the well is alone and is isolated in her own community. After Jesus asks her for a drink, she replies, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”? Jesus is attempting to cross a few barriers here in order to enter into a conversation. She points out both the Jew-Samaritan and the male-female barriers. He continues the conversation, crossing the barrier of isolation. Jesus chooses to engage someone that most others ignore or avoid. In spite of the initial barriers that she tries to put up, Jesus continues to try and connect with her. Jesus offers her the “living water” and she reminds him that Jacob drank from this well and gave it to the Samaritans. The Samaritan connection to Jacob is their claim to equality with the Jews. She is testing Jesus – will he bite and allow the conversation to be derailed? No, he continues to offer her the water that leads to eternal life. You see, the gift of eternal life is much more important than any earthly defined barrier or difference. How can we model this belief in our efforts to share Jesus with others?

In verses sixteen through eighteen Jesus identifies the thing that keeps her on the fringes of society, outside of community. He does name it but there is no judgment, no taking of moral high ground. She falls back into the Jew-Samaritan barrier in verse twenty, but again Jesus persists, opening her eyes to see how God is working to break down worship and religious barriers, revealing a time when all believers will worship together in spirit and truth. Jesus is again leaning into the eternal. The woman at the well is beginning to sense what Jesus offers, connecting to the day when the Messiah will come. The conversation ends for now with Jesus claiming, “I am he”. Drawn in, the woman will soon draw others in.

This is the pattern of discipleship – sharing faith in Jesus with one person at a time. May we practice this model today.

Prayer: Father God, lead me past any barriers my earthly eyes may see at first. Open my heart and mind to the guiding of your Holy Spirit as I seek to share Jesus with others today. 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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Listen and Obey

Reading: Matthew 1: 18-25

Verse 20: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”.

In Joseph’s day the Holy Spirit was not quite as prevalent as it is today. The gift of the Holy Spirit had not yet been given to all believers and faith for the average Jew was connected to the temple. Angels were the primary heavenly bearers of God’s voice. It was an angel that visited Zechariah and then Mary. It is an angel that comes to Joseph in his dream.

Joseph must have loved Mary deeply. Going to bed this night he has received news that he cannot quite live with. The woman he loves, the woman he is engaged to marry, is with child and he is sure that he did not have anything to do with the pregnancy. He decides to end the engagement quietly, keeping Mary from any public disgrace and from the many ramifications that would come with an unwed birth. In doing so, he risks exposing himself. It is a risk he is willing to take for Mary, his beloved.

In the angelic dream Joseph learns that Mary is bearing a child conceived by the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that went out over the waters at the creation of the world has formed the child in Mary’s womb. He also learns that the child will be the Savior, fulfilling the ancient prophecy from Isaiah 7. Knowing all this, Joseph awakes with a resolve to be a part of God’s plan.

What strikes me is how “matter of fact” Joseph is – no doubt, no questioning, no hesitancy. He steps into God’s plan most effortlessly. What would our lives look like if we stepped into the guidance of the Holy Spirit so effortlessly, without any hesitation…? What would our world look like?

God spoke to Joseph, he listened and obeyed. God speaks to us all the time too. May we listen and obey.

Prayer: God of heaven and earth, how often you speak to me through your word, through the Holy Spirit, through fellow believers. I hear you often. This day and every day, make me more and more like Joseph, listening and obeying. May it be so. Amen.


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Build the Kingdom

Reading: Isaiah 11: 6-10

Verse 10: “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for all the people; the nations will rally to him”.

Isaiah writes of a kingdom that seems hard to wrap our minds around. This vision of endless peace is difficult to contemplate in our day and age. Verses six through eight are filled with images that are very unlike the relationships that exist today. Wolves do not live with lambs; cows do not feed alongside bears. We shudder at the image of a child putting its hand into the den of poisonous snakes. What if this vision of harmony and peace were a metaphor for what God’s kingdom could look like today? What would this kind of world look like today?

We do catch a glimpse of it now and then. When the families of the children slain at school went and offered forgiveness and mercy to the shooter and his family, we saw a glimpse. When the concentration camp survivor hugged and offered grace to the camp guard, we caught a glimpse. It remains fully possible for the power of God to break in even in this day and age. That is part of what Advent is all about. As we live into and practice peace, hope, love, and joy we are drawn closer to the vision laid out in Isaiah 11. In verse ten we read, “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for all the people; the nations will rally to him”. Right now we await this day. The kingdom described here has not yet been fulfilled. We live in the “not yet”. It is a time of building, a time of drawing nearer to its culmination.

The question for us is this: what role will we play? Will we be but observers? Or will we have an active role in the building of the kingdom? If we are to be builders we must actively engage those we see as wolves and lions and bears and vipers. If we want to build the kingdom of peace, hope, love, and joy, we must be examples of these things in the darkness of the world. What barriers must we cross? What risks must we take? Are we willing to step bravely forth with God’s peace, hope, love, and joy? May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, reveal to me the darkness into which you are calling me to bring light. Encourage me and fill me with your Spirit to go where you want to send me. May I be your peace, hope, love, and joy today. Amen.


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Resource Usage

Reading: Luke 16: 1-8

Verse 8: “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly”.

The dishonest manager is about to find himself unemployed. He surely knows why his boss is firing him. Instead of taking some time for introspection, he turns to more dishonesty as he adjusts the debts owed his boss. He takes from another to insure a better future for himself. In a turn that always surprises me, we read “the master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly”. Instead of sulking or walking away mad, the manager does what he can to make the best of his situation. The master credits him as being shrewd.

When we read this story, it rubs most of us the wrong way. It goes against our sense of right and wrong. There is dishonest gain and it is commended. But we cannot get stuck here, in our indignation. If we do, we miss Jesus’ point. He too acknowledges that “the people of this world are far more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light”. Those who live in the world use the world and its ways to their advantage. As a man of the world, the master commended his ex-manager for playing the game so well.

Jesus is not encouraging us to be dishonest but to use the resources that we have been given shrewdly. We all have gifts and resources at our disposal. Maybe you have been blessed financially. Use that resource to do some of God’s work in the world. Maybe you have been blessed with mechanical ability. Use that resource to teach another a skill or use it to help out someone in need. We have all been given resources. We need to use the things of the world as we follow Jesus and as we seek to help others know him. We are to use the things of this world that we have been given wisely – to grow in the grace and love of God and to help others do so as well. Whatever resources God has blessed you with, engage the world as you use the resources well.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, all that I have and am are yours. All of my gifts and talents, all of my possessions, all of my relationships are gifts from you. Show me how to use each of them well, building my faith and advancing your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Tell of His Love

Reading: Luke 15: 1-10

Verse 4: “Does he not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it”?

As we read these two stories, we begin to understand how important it is for God to find the lost. It has been almost 2,000 years since Jesus told these stories. The first disciples thought Jesus’ return was going to be soon – certainly during their lifetime. I believe this expanse of time shows both God’s love for humanity and God’s love for the lost. There are still souls to be saved.

We were once one of these lost souls. We were the sheep or the coin (or the prodigal son in the next story). During the first part of my college experience I was the lost sheep. I was raised in the church and was active in youth group through high school. In college, my faith took a back seat for a few years until God found me again in a pile of grief. A few years later I was like the lost coin – still somewhere in the house but not really connected or engaged. We went to a church most Sundays but it wasn’t ever our church. It was more like checking the box than being a part of a faith family. God was present in my life, but was mostly hidden. We all have experiences or seasons where we wander a little bit from the faith we once knew and lived. Like the shepherd and like the woman, God searches for us. “Does he not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it”?

I am so very grateful that God sought me out when I was lost. Once it was a trial, a suffering, that drew me back. Other times it was a gentle whisper, a soft nudge. All of these are a part of my faith story, a part of who I am today as a child of God. I rejoice that God loves me so much that he never gives up on me. Is that your response too? If so, may we tell others of Jesus’ love for them.

Prayer: Loving Father God, when I think about your love, I both marvel at it and am humbled by it. My response: thank you for your love. May my witness today help others to know that love too. Amen.


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Our Response?

Reading: Psalm 139: 13-18

Verse 14: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”.

The psalmist clearly understands God’s hand in our creation. One cannot get more personal than God knitting us together in the womb. This is a very personal connection that we have with God. My response parallels the psalmist’s: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. Join me today in praising God for creating you just as you are, just as God intended.

Because God wove us together and breathed life into us, we were created with a godly purpose. All that is in us and all that makes up who we are and who we can be is there because God put it there. God created us with the ability and the capacity to respond to God as we live out our earthly lives. God intends for us to live in alignment with our creator and to be a part of God’s purposes in the world.

God also created each of us with our own will. We each have a choice on how we respond to and live with our creator. Some people choose to live without God in their lives at all. Some choose to engage God when convenient or when necessity arises. Some seek to live with God 24/7. I use ‘seek’ because the reality is that even though 24/7 is our goal, we fall short. Yes, we are created in the image of and by God, but we are also human and we live in a broken world. Once in a while we become broken ourselves as our walk becomes less than perfect.

God’s response to our humanity was and is Jesus Christ. Christ paid the atoning sacrifice so that we can receive forgiveness and can be redeemed. Once made new we can walk again in covenant relationship with God. This was and is God’s loving response to our inherent brokenness. What is our response to God’s love and the gift of life?

Prayer: Loving God, may my life be a pleasing offering to you today. Lead me to walk with the Holy Spirit, ever in connection with you. Amen.