pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Standing Firm

Reading: Luke 21:12-19

Verse 12: “They will lay hands on you and persecute you.”

In the opening verses of this week’s gospel lesson, Jesus told the disciples of the false prophets and difficult events that will come. Shifting to a much more personal focus Jesus tells his followers, “They will lay hands on you and persecute you.” Those who follow Jesus will be imprisoned and will stand trial before earthly powers. The way of Jesus runs counter to the ways of the world. Instead of accumulating more and more for self, Jesus calls for generosity towards those without. Instead of using power to dominate relationships, Jesus calls for love to guide all we do and say. Instead of using others to further our own interests and desires, Jesus calls us to walk alongside and to lift others up.

In and of themselves, these things that Jesus calls us to are not likely to land us in hot water. But living this way shines a light on the darkness of the world. That creates tension with power. Standing for justice and equality and redemption are also all good things – until they challenge systems that work against these values of God. It is then that power rises against the followers of Christ.

Jesus offers the disciples and us today words of encouragement. First, these trials will be opportunities to witness to our faith. Second, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will “give you words and wisdom.” Opponents will not be able to speak or stand against us. And third, “by standing firm you will gain life.” This is a both/and promise. Because of the Holy Spirit power within, we will be freed from the cares and worries of this world. And because of that, we are able to live towards the eternal glory found in Christ.

Jesus warns us that it will not be an easy road. But he also promises us that the path of discipleship will transform our life and the world around us. May we ever be faithful.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with Holy Spirit power each day. Give me a holy compassion for all who are held down, held back, held below. Through your power and presence, use me to lift others up and to free them from the darkness of this world. Amen.


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A Glorious Love

Reading: Colossians 2:6-15

Verse 13: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive in Christ.”

Our passage begins with Paul encouraging us to live in Christ, “rooted and built up in him.” Paul implies an ongoing, continually growing relationship. Jumping to verse 9 we are reminded that we have been given “the fullness of Christ” – the one who was “the fullness of God… in bodily form.” The fullness of God in Christ that we have been given is the Holy Spirit. This receiving of Christ’s Spirit transforms us, empowering us to put off “the sinful nature.” This, of course, is also an ongoing, continual process as we die to our sin over and over. The sinful nature is ever at work in our flesh. But, thanks be to God, so is the Spirit!

In verse 13 we read, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive in Christ.” When there was no hope for us, when we were as lost as lost can be, Jesus Christ rescued us as he “took it away” by “nailing it to the cross.” This act of love is what rescues us again and again, casting off our sin and the guilt and shame connected to it, making us alive once again in Christ. It is a glorious love that Christ has for you and me! Freeing us, we claim victory over the world and all earthly powers.

This glorious love that we experience is not a love experienced by all people. There are some who do not know Christ. We are sent to these to offer hope and rescue. There are some who long to know this freedom that we find in Christ yet are trapped or held back by society and the labels and systems that we create. We too are sent to these, armed with the triumph of the cross, empowered to help them break free of these earthly powers, inviting them to experience transformation and redemption in and through Jesus Christ. Living out the fullness of God in Christ in us, today may we seek to guide others to know the power of being alive in Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, it feels so good for the chains to fall to the ground, to experience the freedom of life with you. In all I do and say and think today may I reflect your glorious love to the world. Amen.


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Open and Free to All

Reading: Luke 22:14-28

Verse 17: “Take this and divide it among you.”

In our reading today we find Jesus sharing in the first communion with his disciples. Peter and John has been sent ahead to secure the room and to gather the elements to celebrate the Passover. Like it was with the two sent to find the colt, Peter and John “found things just as Jesus had told them.” This is another example of the divinity of Christ.

As they gather Jesus tells them that he has “eagerly desired” to share in this meal one more time before he suffers. During the meal Jesus takes a cup and says, “Take this and divide it among you.” All partake in the sharing of this cup. All will partake in the bread and cup of this first communion. Jesus did not send Judas on some phony errand so that he wasn’t around. Jesus demonstrates in verse 21 that he knew Judas would betray him. Yet he included Judas in communion.

What does this simple act tell us about how we understand and practice communion? First, it tells us that communion is for those who have sinned. So it is for all of us. One mustn’t come to the table already made right with God. One comes seeking to be made right with God. Jesus is telling Judas that he is welcome at the table, even though he has already agreed to betray Jesus. So our second lesson is that we too should invite all to the table of grace. The table is open and free to all people, from the purest saint to the most deeply stained sinner. All are invited to be made new again at the table of grace. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, I rejoice in your love that makes me new again every time I kneel at your table of grace. Lead me to invite all to the table of grace so that all may know your love. Amen.


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Respond to the Call

Reading: Isaiah 55:1-9

Verse 6: “Seek the Lord while God may be found; call on the Lord while God is near.”

Isaiah 55 begins with an invitation: “Come, all who are thirsty… you who have no money, come, buy and eat!” God is inviting all who are thirsty or hungry to come near, to be filled. This is an open invitation, a call to all people. Continuing on in verse 3 we read, “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” God is inviting us to a spiritual feast, to come and nourish our souls.

With this free and open invitation, wouldn’t all people come to the Lord? Although we hope the answer is a resounding “Yes!”, the truth is that not all people will come. Just as some won’t come to receive free food because there’s got to be a catch or because they fear being rejected or being asked for something at the end of the line, some hesitate to answer the call of God in their lives. In addition to these previous reasons, some think themselves unworthy of God’s free gifts. And still others are not willing to surrender their lives or that sin or two, yielding to God’s control.

There is a vulnerability required to come into God’s presence. We’ve all experienced times when we’ve allowed sin or anger or other things to separate us from God. We can all remember the trust and courage we had to muster up to admit our need for God. It takes vulnerability and humility to admit our need and it takes trust that God will not turn us away or judge us unworthy after all. Even though we know it is an open invitation to receive freely, we too can hesitate, we too can refuse to step into God’s love and mercy. Like the beggar that doesn’t quite trust the hand offering bread, we too can fear or doubt the vastness of God’s love and mercy.

In verse 6 we read, “Seek the Lord while God may be found; call on the Lord while God is near.” Trust in God. Respond to the call and to the invitation. God’s unconditional love and unending mercy is boundless. God is faithful. Let us drink deeply of God’s faithfulness and goodness so that “your soul will delight in the richest of fare” – God’s love and mercy.

Prayer: Lord God, move my hesitant feet a little closer to your throne of love and grace. Open my hands and my heart to receive what you freely offer. Pour out your love and mercy, making me more like Jesus. Amen.


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Hearing and Doing

Reading: James 1: 22-27

Verse 22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

In today’s part of our James passage for this week, we dive into one of the realities of the faith: following Jesus all of the time is hard. There are many voices and many interests competing for our time, our attention, and our devotion. Faith is but one of them. As a couple of small examples, how many times have you caught yourself mid-sermon thinking about your to-do list or next activity for Sunday afternoon? Or… have you ever heard a message about God’s love and grace only to scream at the innocent but rambunctious children on the drive home?

In verse 22 James says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Don’t show up for an hour on Sunday and forget all you’ve heard as you exit the church. Don’t get up early to read your Bible if you do not allow the words you read to change you. Don’t ‘practice’ your faith without applying it to your real life. Don’t fool yourself or others into thinking you’re all ‘religious’ when you’re just going through the motions. James’ illustration is the man who looks in the mirror then immediately forgets what he looks like. Sometimes, though, we don’t even get this far. Sometimes we don’t want to look, to allow our faith to speak into our lives because we either won’t like what we see or we don’t want to make that change. Other times we just look quickly, not really wanting to truly see. We don’t want to address that wrong or we don’t really want to deal with that person just then.

James calls us to look “intently into the perfect law” so that we can really hear and actually do God’s will, being blessed in the process. This is because there is a freedom to fully living out one’s faith. There are no stones left unturned, no ‘other shoes’ to drop. Living faithfully, there are no woulda-coulda-shoulda regrets. To really commit to who we are in Christ and then to go for living into that – it’s freeing. Cares and concerns for the things of this world fall away. Again, it is not easy, but how it is freeing!

Our passage closes with a frequent topic for James: the tongue. He really delves into it in chapter three. Today’s context comes within the framework of doing, not just hearing the word. To fully live into our faith we would take great care in how we talk to others. When we fail to be kind and gentle in our speech, we do harm. If we allow our tongue to harm others, then we are deceiving ourselves, our “religion is worthless.” By our very words we should set ourselves apart from the world. Deceiving ourselves and others is not how God calls us to live. James reminds us of part of our call: to care for the helpless and to remain unstained by the world and its ways.

In word and deed, may all we say and do bring glory to God.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so easy to drift spiritually, to allow the things of the world to creep in, to let those words slip from our lips. We are called to a walk of faith that is 24/7. It is not a walk of convenience or comfort. So gird up my heart, fill me with the power of the Holy Spirit, keep me ever true to you, O God. May it be so. Amen.


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Set Free!

Reading: John 8: 31-35

Verse 31: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples”.

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

In this passage from John 8, Jesus is talking about the freedom we find in Christ. In our text today he is speaking to some Jews who has believed in him. Because of some hard teachings they have fallen away. In the opening verse he says to them, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples”. To be a disciple one must follow the teachings and the example of the teacher or rabbi. In this case, it was Jesus.

The Jews were people of the Law. The words of Moses and future religious leaders guided all of life. By Jesus’ day the following of the Law – over 600 statutes – had become one of two things. For the select few who could adhere to the Law, it became a source of pride and exclusion. For all else it became a burden – something impossible to attain, something covered in guilt and shame. While Jesus did not come to abolish the Law (Matthew 5:17), he did come to reveal the heart of the Law: to love God and to love neighbor. These two commands were the heart of the Law. According to Jesus, all of the Law hung on these two (Matthew 22:40).

Trying to live under the Law, many were “slaves” to sin. They were always worried about breaking some law and they were ever being reminded to do and be better. This led to many being outside the family, outside the temple or synagogue, outside the community of faith. Jesus offered and still offers a better way. In and through the blood of Jesus we are set free. If we are in Christ sin no longer has the power to condemn. In faith we are forgiven and cleansed, restored back into family. The guilt and shame that kept one outside are no more. Jesus wants all people to understand this gift. Because of the blood of Jesus Christ we are set free. This is the truth that Jesus offers. It is our truth. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you are the way and the truth and the life. Your love breaks every chain and ushers me into the family of God. In you is freedom; in you is hope. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Daughter

Reading: Mark 5: 24b-34

Verse 28: “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed”.

Photo credit: Elia Pelligrini

A great crowd follows Jesus and Jairus as they make their way to the synagogue leader’s home. They are focused on Jairus’ dying daughter. In the crowd is a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. The nonstop flow of blood has a huge impact on her. She has been living on the fringes of society – always ceremonially unclean. In the excitement of the moment she is able to slip into the crowd. She is among people again. But her focus is singular. Jesus is present. She is drawn to get to him. She thinks, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed”. Is it faith or hope or desperation that draws her to Jesus? Or is it some of all three?

Suddenly the great crowd grinds to a halt. The woman worked her way to Jesus and touches his cloak. She is immediately healed – fully, completely, totally. Jesus knows that someone has drawn power and healing from him. The woman approaches, trembling in fear, falling at his feet. She tells the truth of what has happened, all of it. How does this all-powerful and holy one react to being touched by an outcast, by an unclean woman? He says to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering”. Daughter, welcome home. Daughter, glad to finally meet you. Daughter, peace be with you.

Who do I know that lives on the fringes? Who is there that I don’t even know? Who are these for you? What son or daughter of God feels outside the family of faith? May we seek ways to connect them to the healer. Whether touching them with words, with an act of kindness, with an invitation, may we share our Jesus with them.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me today to share my Jesus with one who feels far from you. Use me however you will to connect them to the healer’s touch. Amen.


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Put the Spirit on Me!

Reading: Isaiah 42: 1-9

Verse 1: “I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations”.

Isaiah writes and speaks to the defeated, hopeless nation of Israel. They have been in exile for almost a generation. Many are beginning to wonder if this is their new reality. The people need to be reminded that God’s love still burns bright and that God’s promises remain true. We too can get to this point after being too long in the valley of trial or grief or suffering. As we begin Holy Week, I think of the disciples as they spent that first Sabbath without Jesus. He has just been crucified, swallowed up by the grave.

Beginning in verse one of Isaiah 42, God speaks of a coming servant, of one in whom God will delight. God foretells, “I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations”. This servant will not break a “bruised reed”, he will not snuff out a “smouldering wick”. No, the servant will bring healing and love just as God will bring back the exiles, bruised and smouldering as they are, back to Israel, back to life. The servant will bring life. He will “open eyes that are blind, set free captives, … release those who sit in darkness”. Jesus will be the new covenant and the light to the Gentiles. All will fall within God’s circle of love as revealed by Jesus Christ. In and through Jesus a “new thing is declared”: you are loved! These words will be poured out to one and all through God’s radical, unconditional love.

As I consider these words and the example set by Christ, the one who loved Jew and Gentile, slave and free, saint and sinner, rich and poor…, I ask myself who I struggle to love. As I search my heart, preparing it to allow Jesus to wash my feet and to share the bread and cup with me on Maundy Thursday, I find ones who I struggle to love. How would Jesus love such as these? Jesus would love without limit, without condition, without requirements. Who comes to mind for you?

May God put his Spirit on me and on you. May we shine the light of Jesus’ love on one and on all.

Prayer: Lord God, this is a tough thing to consider today. Who do I fail to love as you love them? What limits my ability to love as Jesus loved? Lord, I want to be an instrument of justice, a bearer of your love. Convict me by the power of the Holy Spirit when I fall short, when my love fails. Empower me by the same Spirit to love more like you love. Amen.


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Love Forever

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 and 19-29

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

Psalm 118 is a song of remembrance, victory, celebration. The historical context is the story of exodus, of God freeing Israel from years of slavery in Egypt. The song would be sung during the three yearly festivals as a way to thank God for his presence with the people. As the people marched into Jerusalem, recalling God’s saving acts, there is much joy and expectation as they enter the gates of the city. Years and years of doing this is what lends such energy to the day we know as Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry.

Even though the exodus story is the foundation, the theme of being freed from slavery is the main theme of this Psalm. There is much messianic language in the second part of the Psalm: salvation, stone, rejection, light. We will delve deeper into this aspect later in the week. Today we celebrate what the Lord has done for Israel, for you, and for me.

In the opening verse we read, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. You or I may not have walked out of slavery in Egypt, but we have experience after experience with the Lord’s freeing and saving acts. Time and time again we have been freed from the lures and temptations of this world. Over and over we have been made new again, leaving behind the chains and guilt and shame of our sins, being cleansed by his mercy and grace. Again and again God has reconciled and restored our relationships – sometimes with God, sometimes with one another. We too can joyously approach the Lord our God, thanking God for his goodness and for his love that endures forever. May we, like the Israelites, say, “His love endures forever”!

Prayer: Lord God, over and over… again and again… time after time… Yes, you are so good to me. Yes, your love is amazing. With wonder and awe I praise you and offer my humble thanksgiving. Amen!


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Good Works

Reading: Ephesians 2: 6-10

Verse 10: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works”.

In our passage yesterday we focused on how God saved us from our sins through his grace and love. Paid for by Christ, grace is available to all who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Grace rests upon God’s no-matter-what love. God loves us no matter what we do, no matter what we do not do. This unconditional love is the core of who and what God is. Once we accept this love, Christ becomes alive in us. God’s love comes and dwells in our hearts in the Holy Spirit.

In today’s passage we hear about our response to God’s love and grace. In the gospels Jesus was clear that the highest calling of a disciple is to love -> love God, love one another. Jesus himself defined this as the mark of a disciple. Paul begins today by reminding us that grace is a gift. It is not something we can earn or work for. This is a humbling thought. Because it is a gift, freely and generously given, we are not to boast. We can be tempted to boast about things that God has given us: beauty, strength, physical or intellectual abilities… Humility is the key here too.

Paul does suggest we respond to the gift of grace and to the unconditional love of God. In verse ten Paul writes, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works”. What are “good works”? Jesus identifies some: feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing the naked, housing the wanderer, loving our neighbor. Good works also include lifting the other, alleviating or sharing other’s burdens, walking through the valleys, sharing food and other blessings, standing with the powerless and marginalized, including others in our faith communities… Simply put, it is being Christ to the world. It is being light and love in the world, sharing the gifts that we have received. May we be generous as we spread his love today.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to love well today. In all I do and say may I share your love with others, helping each to feel the kingdom of God drawing near. Amen.