pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love Mercy Grace

Reading: Luke 23:39-43

Verse 43: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

As we continue today with our Luke 23 passage for this week, let’s just begin by being honest: folks struggle with this passage. Christians almost universally love the words of forgiveness that Jesus speaks in verse 34. They are evidence of Christ’s love, mercy, and grace. We cherish these gifts that we receive in faith from Jesus. Some, however, can struggle with the words of forgiveness that come in verse 43.

There is a third person on a cross. This other thief joins in with the mocking of Jesus. He basically says that if Jesus is really the Messiah, then save yourself – and us! He is selfish. There is no belief. In this moment he’d just like enough of that love, mercy, and grace to get him out of this situation. “Just give me what I want right now and I might see you again when I need something” is his mantra. And as much as we feel disdain for this character, the truth is that at one point we have lived this kind of faith. Hard as that is to admit, here is a deeper truth. Once we think ourselves worthy of Jesus’ love, mercy, and grace, we begin to draw a line for others. We judge, we place conditions, we set up unspoken expectations, we limit access to Christ’s love, mercy, and grace. Welcome to thief two.

The second thief speaks up too. Only he recognizes what love, mercy, and grace looks like as it hangs beside him on the middle cross. He hears Jesus do the unthinkable: he offers it all to those who unjustly placed him on this cross. He is drawn to this Jesus. As a declaration of faith he asks to be remembered. Jesus tells him: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” This is where some struggle. They get rankled at this deathbed confession and the ease with which Jesus accepts this man into faith. No judgement, no conditions, no expectations, no limits. In an instant the man sees Jesus’ love, mercy, and grace and is drawn into a relationship with the Savior. He steps into paradise in that very moment. Friends, may our love, mercy, and grace be as generous, accepting, and welcoming as Christ’s is.

Prayer: Lord God, what love! Anyone, everyone, anytime, anywhere. A lifetime, part of a lifetime, just a moment as death stands at the door. Relationship. This is where we come to see and understand your love, mercy, and grace. Relationship. It is where we are equipped and empowered to live these things out. May it be so. Amen.


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Heart of God

Reading: Luke 17:11-19

Verse 15: “Was no one found to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?”

a handful of many…

As we read and reflected on this passage yesterday we considered if we take the time to stop and thank God for our blessings and for the ways that Jesus touches our lives. Today we focus on why this is so important for our faith and for our lives.

Many years ago the church that I was a part of gave out little 3″ by 5″ spiral notebooks with a cute “Season of Thanks” sticker on the front cover. The challenge given that Thanksgiving was to write 3-5 things that you were thankful for in the notebook every day. After writing these out, we were asked to thank God in prayer for each thing we wrote down. Dutifully, I began the process. At first, on some days it took a while to come up with 5 things to write down. But in a short time this task became a valuable part of my time with God each morning.

In the parable of “ten healed of leprosy” one leper returned to Jesus to praise and worship God as he thanked Jesus for his healing. Jesus asks, “Was no one found to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?” Jesus questions where the other 9 are. Now, Jesus did not need to receive thanks. It wasn’t essential for his self-esteem or for anything else concerning Jesus. Being thankful was what the lepers needed. It is what we all need. To pause and thank God, it takes the focus off of us and off of all that we can do. To thank God also recognizes the fact that God loves us, cares for us, provides for us… The focus turns to what God can do and to what God does. It changes our heart when we are grateful. Being intentional about thanking God helps us better understand the heart of God. The better we understand God’s heart, the more our heart grows to be like God’s heart. We, in turn, become more loving, more caring, more generous, more other-focused. May we be thankful today, developing within the heart of God.

Prayer: Lord, keep me ever aware of the many, many ways you touch my life every day. Draw me daily to a place of reflection and thanksgiving, leading my heart to grow to be more like your heart. Amen.


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See, Hear, Feel

Reading: Luke 16:19-31

Verse 26: “Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed.”

While this parable is partly about eternity, it is really more concerned with how we live this life. The rich man enjoyed the things of this world and had no time for the things of God. Lazarus had little in this world, suffering much. Yet he knew God. He was content with God’s presence. In eternity there is a “great chasm” that cannot be crossed.

The life of the rich man was filled – with success, with wealth, with fine clothes and food. There was no need or place for God. He had no time for God. Therefore he did not have eyes to see Lazarus or ears to hear the dogs coming around or a heart to feel compassion for this poor beggar. The transformation that God offers was nowhere to be found in the rich man. Therefore he never crossed the gulf between himself and Lazarus.

We, like the rich man, can become consumed with the things of this world. We can strive for all the had plus power, popularity, beauty, status, and more. We can find ourselves feeling as if we had no time or need for God. The voices of this world and the voices inside our heads can lead us away from God and the transformation God offers.

May we instead heed the warnings today from Jesus. May we not just enjoy and consume our blessings. May we share them generously and abundantly. May we not simply focus on self and our narrow place in life. May we see and hear and feel those that God has given us to love, bridging the chasm between us, creating one humanity. Doing so all will live and love abundantly here and now. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, open my heart to your love for all of creation. With a heart filled with love may I see and hear and feel as you do, with empathy and compassion for all, as I seek to build the kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Be Generous

Reading: Luke 16:1-9

Verse 3: “What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job.”

The gospel lesson for this week is one of Jesus’ most difficult teachings. It is one we can read through again and again and still scratch our heads. Is Jesus really commending someone for being dishonest? For cheating his boss? After all, the manager reduces debts owed to his master or boss, all to make those debtors indebted to him instead. And when the boss finds out, he commends the manager for acting shrewdly. Maybe money isn’t the most important thing in the world. Maybe the way we use money is what really matters. Jesus seems to agree. In verses 9 he advises, “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

The master was impressed because the manager used money to gain an advantage – in this world. Here is where Jesus differs. He advises us to use earthly wealth to gain advantage in the life to come. A time of hardship led the manager to act as he did: “What shall I do now?” he thought. We all find ourselves in places of hardship. We all know people who are in hardship. Whether on the receiving end or on the giving end, Jesus advises us to be generous with our money – which is really God’s money. Use earthly wealth to help others, to alleviate hardship, to build relationships and connections. Do so not for our own earthly gain, but do so for the glory of God. Then, in the end, we will know heavenly blessings. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be shrewd with the money you’ve blessed me with, using it in ways that reveal your love and care for us all. May my sharing be counter cultural, leading to conversations about faith, about compassion, about generosity. Amen.

My master is taking away my job.”


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A Grateful Heart

Reading: Psalm 50:1-8 and 22-23

Verse 23: “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.”

Psalm 50 begins with God getting ready to judge Israel. God prepares to testify against them, saying, “Hear, O my people, and I will speak.” And God does speak! In verse 8 it appears that the people are offering sacrifices to the Lord. But God wants more. God wants heart change. It’d look like this today: showing up for an hour on Sunday morning and then never thinking of or praying to or connecting to God in the other 167 hours of the week. And believing that we’d done enough.

In verses 9-21, which are not in our lectionary reading, the psalmist details the problem. First God tells the people that God has no need for the blood or flesh being offered. God instead asks for thank offerings – expressions of gratitude for what the Lord has done in their lives. At the core of these offerings was a humble recognition that all one has comes from God. Everything. An “attitude of gratitude” does more than keeping us humble. It recognizes that God is good and kind and caring. Being grateful also creates a more generous and compassionate heart within us. A regular habit of thanking God for all of our blessings really changes our relationship with God and positively affects how we see and interact with the world.

There is another benefit to giving God thanks regularly. In verse 23 we read, “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” Being grateful prepares our heart for walking in God’s ways. And it readies us to see God’s salvation. Both of these can be experienced daily. A grateful heart opens us up to seeing and bring a part of God’s saving grace at work each day – both for ourselves and others. This day, may we rejoice in the blessings of the Lord as we seek to bless others too.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be grateful in all things, not just in the obvious ways that you touch my life. In trust and faith may I be grateful in hard times too, recognizing your presence and love there too. Amen.


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“Hear this…”

Reading: Amos 8:1-6

Verse 4: “Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land.”

Photo credit: Nick Sarro

We continue this week with Amos. Last week God used a plumb line to reveal how askew or crooked the Israelites had become. In this week’s reading from Amos 8, God reveals some details. As our passage opens, God shows Amos a basket of fruit. The fruit is ripe, maybe even appealing – at first glance. When one looks closer, however, one can see the rot along the edges. Using this analogy, God says, “The time is ripe for my people; I will spare them no longer.” We all know what happens when you leave rotting fruit in the bowl with good fruit. It will all go bad. It is time to deal with the rot.

In verse 4 God speaks to the rot: “Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land.” The Sabbath is a farce. The powerful go through the motions, anxious for it to end so that they can return to making dishonest profits and to trading on the lives of the poor and needy. Selfishly living they ignored the needs of their brothers and sisters. We too can play these games. I’ve gone to church and spent the whole time thinking about that afternoon or the week ahead. I’ve given the homeless man a granola bar or a bottle of water while tightly clinging to that wad of cash in my pocket.

God declares that their songs will turn to wailing. Bodies will be strewn everywhere. This brings to mind recent images of responses to times when those with power have abused or oppressed those without power. Punishment will surely come for being selfish and ignoring the plight of those on the margins. God will not stand for such evil. What would Amos tell us about how we live and about how we treat those in need around us? How could we better reflect God’s heart for all people?

Prayer: Lord, guide my eyes to look beyond myself. Lead me to be more generous, more willing with all that you’ve blessed me with. Amen.


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“Go and Do Likewise”

Reading: Luke 10:25-37

Verse 29: “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'”

The expert in the Law answers Jesus’ question correctly and is told to love God and neighbor in order to live, to gain eternal life. It would be a nice place to end the story. But it continues and in verse 29 the expert says to Jesus, “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'” The lawyer wanted to be justified, to hear it is okay to love who he wanted to love.

Before we go too deep in our condemnation of the expert in the Law we must admit that we too often ask the same question. It may sound more like “God, do I really have to love that person?” Like with the priest and then the Levite, we see a need or we encounter one who is unloved and we rationalize and we pass by. We have to get to work. I have an appointment. I’m not equipped or trained to deal with that… Oh how we long to be like the Samaritan.

The Samaritan stops and cares for the man. He brings him to an inn and cares more for the injured man. He then pays the innkeeper to care for the man and promises to return to cover any additional costs. What extravagant and generous love!

Turning back to the one who wanted to justify himself, to the one who wanted to limit who all he had to love, Jesus asks him who the neighbor was to the man who was injured. He responds, “The one who had mercy on him.” The one who stopped to love someone who was really hard to love – the one who went out of his way to love extravagantly and generously. May we too “Go and do likewise.”

Prayer: Lord God, open my heart, soul, strength, and mind to love like the Samaritan loved. Guide me to not count the cost and to be generous with all that you’ve blessed me with. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Extravagant Love

Reading: John 12:1-11

Verse 3: “Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.”

As we step into Holy Week we step back to a reading from two weeks ago. We step back in time as well, to the day before the palm parade. Holy Week centers on Jesus’ great love poured out for you and for me. It is about how much Jesus loves you and me. It is about God’s extravagant love for us. Today’s reading is about extravagant love for Jesus. This too is a part of our Holy Week journey.

During a meal at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, Mary “took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.” Monetarily, this gift was worth a year’s wages. It is dumped on a pair of feet – that’s how some saw this gift. And there is excess – Mary collects this with her hair. The gift is so extravagant that some protest it and one even complains out loud. This is an extravagant gift of love that Mary offers to Jesus. Through her example we are invited to consider how we practice this depth of love.

Much of Holy Week is somber and serious. Much of it focuses on all that Jesus did and gave for us, for you and for me. It is important to remember that we are called to model Jesus to the world. As he loved so too are we called to love. It is here that Mary gives us an excellent example of love. Mary could offer no greater gift to Jesus. It was her response to the love that Jesus had poured into her. So, how do you and I practice this kind of love this week? How do you and I respond to God in this manner, loving others extravagantly? This is the challenge for Holy Week – to both receive and give extravagant love. In what way will we make others gasp at or take pause at our gift of extravagant love for another?

Prayer: Lord God, as you provide opportunities for me to love well, give me willing feet and a generous heart. Through me may others begin to see and feel your extravagant love. Amen.


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The Mind, The Attitude of Christ

Reading: Philippians 2:5-11

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

Our passage today opens with quite a challenge! Other translations challenge us to have the mind of Christ. What a life we’d live if we always practiced the attitude or mind of Jesus Christ.

In the passage Paul explains what it requires to meet this challenge: emptying self and then being a servant, being humble, and being obedient to God. I don’t know what’s harder – the emptying or the being. I do know that to truly be these things one must be willing to empty or die to self. This act of surrendering our will and way to God is the necessary first step to true servanthood and humility and obedience. We can be partly these things without surrender, but always in a lesser way because we will still keep self in mind.

In our world so much value is placed on possessions, titles, status, and so on. Living in this world, it is hard to let go of these things. That’s why faith is so counter-cultural. To serve others usually asks us to give away and to be generous with what God has blessed us with. To be humble is to relinquish place and to think more of the other, to see and live into our interconnectedness and interdependence. To be obedient is to listen to God’s voice – both in the scriptures and as spoken by the Holy Spirit. To listen implies that we hear and follow what is said.

To live in this radical, counter-cultural way is to exult the name of Jesus. When we die to self we take on the mind of Christ. When we live as humble servants, obedient to God, we practice the attitude of Christ. Doing so, we bow down to and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Doing so, we invite others to do the same. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to kneel at your throne and to pour out self, surrendering to you. Prune away all within that holds be back; nurture and grow those parts that witness to your will and way. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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With the Measure We Use…

Reading: Luke 6:27-38

Verse 38: “For with the measure you us, it will be measured to you.”

Photo credit: Elena Mozhvili

Our passage today begins with a tough imperative. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to be good and a blessing to those who hate and curse us. And! And pray for such as these. Jesus then continues, telling us to go above and beyond when such as these ask us for something – or even when they demand something from us. Maybe because Jesus knows we will struggle with this request for generous love towards our enemies, he simplifies it in verse 31. Here Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Before we can really hear this and begin to think about loopholes, Jesus launches back in, putting a new spin on what he said and meant in verses 27-30. Jesus says “even sinners” do these basic things for one another. Then he says, but you, you who claim to follow me: “But love your enemies…” It is right there again, in verse 35. And treat them well, be generous to them. Jesus does mention a great reward in heaven if we do so. Sadly, sometimes I think I’d rather skip the extra reward than be nice to those who hate and persecute and take from me. And you?

Then we turn to verses 36-38. Here Jesus is talking about both our relationships with one another and about our relationship with God. Jesus uses terms like mercy, judgment, and forgiveness. He says, in verse 38, “Give and it will be given to you.” We’ve heard it twice. Yes, even with our enemies. Even with such as these be merciful and forgiving. Even with these, do not judge. When we live as Jesus asks us to, then he says blessing will be “poured over” us and it will be “poured into our lap”. In a final word, Jesus returns to the essence of verse 31, saying in verse 38, “For with the measure you us, it will be measured to you.” May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to love all people, especially my “enemies.” With all those that are hard to love, raise up your love in me so that I can better love all people. As I walk in your love, fill me up and pour me out as a blessing to others. Amen.