pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Heavenly Rewards

Reading: Luke 10:16-20

Verse 17: “The 72 returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.'”

The second half of this week’s Luke passage begins with Jesus connecting himself to the disciples and both to God. After sending them out with these final words, they return full of joy over all that they have done. One thing seems to stand out for the disciples. In verse 17 they exclaim, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Even the evil powers of this world submit in Jesus’ name. What a powerful time!

Next Jesus joins the celebration. Yes, he says, he saw “Satan fall like lightning” each time they cast out a demon, each time they healed someone and restored them to community. This power to overcome continues to be something that Jesus offers. In our trials, in our battles, in our sufferings – Jesus offers to be with us and to give us all we need to get through.

The passage ends with a ‘however.’ But it is a good however. Jesus reminds the 72 that as cool as it is that the demons submitted, it is way cooler that their faithful witness has written their names in heaven. Their faithful work here on earth has saved lives. However, the true worth is found in the heavenly reward. This too is true for us. As we witness to our faith, helping others to connect to Jesus’ love and healing, we know that we too will one day receive eternal life. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, whatever comes my way, I know that you will be right there with me. And whatever opportunity you provide to witness to your power and love, you will be right there with me. Thank you Lord for your abiding presence. Amen.


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Bring God’s Peace

Reading: Luke 10:1-11

Verse 2: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

In Luke 10 Jesus sends out the 72 (or the 70, depending on your Bible translation.) The purpose of sending these disciples out is to proclaim that “the kingdom of God is near.” By giving the 72 power to heal, Jesus is preparing these towns and villages for when Jesus himself will come to teach and heal.

While he sends them out with power Jesus also sends them out vulnerably. The 72 are to travel light and to depends on others for food and lodging. They are going out “like lambs among wolves.” The 72 are dependent on others for their basic needs. “Peace” is their calling card. If a home or place receives the peace of God that they offer, then they are to stay and minister. If not, they move on.

The ministry of the 72 is powerful. The peace of God opens doors for healing and this builds a hunger for what Jesus will offer. We’ll read more about that tomorrow. But for today, let us consider: As ones who are also sent out into the world, do we have this same power? Can we bring God’s peace to others?

When we step out in faith and are God’s presence, we bring God’s peace. When we come alongside another and offer comfort or strength, we bring God’s peace. When we help another or carry another’s burden, we offer God’s peace. These are ways that we too open the door for the healing that Christ offers. In these ways we respond to Jesus’ request to “send the workers out into his harvest field.” May we be people who help to draw the kingdom of God near.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to help others to know your peace and then your healing touch. However I can, guide me today to be a builder of your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Do Good

Reading: Galatians 6:1-10

Verse 9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

As Paul draws the letter to the Galatians to a close he focuses in on “Doing Good to All.” That’s the title given to this section by my Bibles translators. Paul opens by encouraging believers to restore one another when someone sins and to carry each other’s burdens. He invites them to have an honest appraisal of themselves and to strive to carry ones own load. These ideas connect back to Paul’s analogy of the church being one body, woven together as God intended.

Paul pivots slightly in verse 7, reminding us that God sees deeper than easily observable actions. Here Paul writes, “A man [or woman] reaps what he [or she] sows.” Paul fleshes this out in verse 8. If we sow to please our sinful nature, we will reap destruction. If we sow to please the Spirit, we will reap eternal life. An example: if we help a brother or sister in their struggle with an addiction to make ourselves feel better or to gain some gossip fodder, then we sow with evil intent and will reap destruction. If we instead help with a pure heart and an honest desire to restore this person, then we will receive eternal rewards from God.

In verses 9 and 10 Paul recognizes a reality of the Christian life. What we reap isn’t always immediately identifiable. In verse 9 he writes, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Paul is calling us to trust God with the outcome. Do what is right and good and holy and then trust God with the results. Paul then closes this section by encouraging us to do all the good, whenever we can. He says take every opportunity that we are given to share the love of Jesus Christ with the world. May it be so for you and for me this day.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me a willing spirit today. Give me energy to spread your love abroad in any way that I can today. Amen.


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What Counts

Reading: Galatians 6:1-16

Verse 15: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.”

Paul’s letter to the Galatians focused on being the community of faith. It was a “how to” letter about being the church. The natural way churches formed was sometimes a barrier to unity and acceptance. Paul’s initial audience in most places were Jews. It is natural to begin conversations about Jesus with folks who are religious in some way. They are more open to the conversation. We follow suit. For example, we’re a lot more likely to invite a new neighbor to church if they tell us they’re looking for a new church home. A lot more likely than when the new neighbor doesn’t fit our idea of someone who is “churchy.” For the Jews that became Christians, they had certain boxes that they thought needed checked. That’s the danger of starting a church with religious people.

The focus of today’s passage is circumcision/uncircumcision. That’s not really a thing anymore. But we have lots of things that we substitute today: white/nonwhite, upper class/lower class, educated/uneducated, conservative/liberal, neat and tidy/rough around the edges, Christian/nonbeliever, orthodox/unorthodox… The thing is, as it was with circumcision, these are all outward signs. God straightened us out on this argument way back in 1st Samuel 16, when Samuel anointed David. God said, “Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Today we have identifiers that read “Christian.” We include things like: goes to church on Sunday, reads the Bible, prays before meals in public. In the initial look, these too are just outward signs. The bigger question – and the one that I believe concerns God – is this: Do these practices lead to inner transformation? Asked another way, does our worship on Sunday morning affect how we treat someone on the other side of one of those substitute pairings? Does our Bible study impact how we love someone who is different than us? Does our prayer life fundamentally change how we see and welcome the “other”? If not, we are not becoming “new creations.” That’s what counts, according to Paul. May we be transformed day by day, becoming more and more like Jesus each step of the journey.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see as you see. Help me to see the heart. Doing so, may I love as you love. Amen.


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Be Patient, Extend Grace

Reading: Luke 9:51-56

Verse 51: “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”

As Jesus’ time on earth draws near to a close he “resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Knowing what lies ahead, Jesus is committed to God’s plan. The abuse, the false accusations, the beatings, the nails, the weight of the sin of the world, the separation from God – Jesus knows every detail about what lies ahead in Jerusalem. And he resolutely sets off for Jerusalem. In this life we too will face trials; we too will deal with pain and rejection. As modeled by Christ, we too must resolve to walk in faith and to trust into God’s plans for us and for our lives.

Along the way Jesus is rejected by a Samaritan village. They are not his focus so they will not welcome him for an overnight. We too will encounter such people. If it’s not all about them then there is little room for Jesus or faith or whatever else we can offer. James and John are offended by this reality and want to “call down fire from heaven.” Jesus rebukes them and they move on to another village. I’d guess that Jesus was reminding James and John to be patient, to extend grace. This too is a good reminder for us.

If we are willing to extend ourselves, to engage the world out there, we will cross paths with people in need of Jesus. Some will recognize the impact that Jesus has on our lives and will want the same for themselves. Others, however, will not be ready for Jesus and they will reject him and us. Some people are ready for the Holy Spirit to move in their lives, some are not. In all cases may we be patient and may we extend grace. May it be so in the days ahead.

Prayer: Lord God, we rejoice in all that we have and find in you. Guide us by your love and by the power of the Holy Spirit to be sharers of our relationship with you. In doing so may others be open to a relationship with you. Amen.


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But First…

Reading: Luke 9:57-62

Verse 61: “I will follow you Lord, but first…”

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

Our passage for today is titled “The Cost of Following Jesus” in my Bible. Just reading and considering these words brings an array of thoughts and emotions. This particular morning I range from “of course there is a cost” to “I wonder what the cost would be if I truly was all-in with following Christ?” One does not walk with Jesus very long before one understands there is a cost. The second realization or question only comes after one has walked a few miles with Jesus.

In today’s passage Jesus interacts with three people who express a desire to follow him. Let’s just say right up front that we can all relate to all three people. The first tells Jesus he’ll follow “wherever you go.” The trouble is there is no “wherever.” The journey of faith never ends. A relationship with Jesus is one where our faith is ever on the move, ever growing and changing. The second man is called by Jesus: “Follow me.” Unlike the first disciples who left nets and tax booths to follow, this man says, “Wait a minute…” He has to go do something else first. The third man combines the first and second, saying, “I will follow you Lord, but first…” The “but first” are the key words, the important words.

Sure, Jesus, I’ll go visit that person, but first… Sure, Jesus, I’ll help with that ministry need, but first… Sure, Jesus, I’ll start coming to church again, but first… Sure, Jesus, I’ll forgive ____, but first… These are a few of the many ways I struggle with the “but first…” concept. A few of many. As you can see, I’m often wrestling with the cost of following. The hard reminder today calls me and encourages me to walk closer to Jesus, to hold a little tighter to the plow. Doing so, may I be better “fit for serving in the kingdom.” May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, sometimes I think you’d like to ask me if I’d like fries or chicken with my waffles. And sometimes I don’t even get that far. Forgive me for the times I fail and for the times when I don’t get close enough to even fail. Help me to walk a little closer to Jesus today. Today, O Lord. Amen.


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Keep in Step

Reading: Galatians 5:22-25

Verse 23b: “Against such things there is no law.”

Photo credit: Caju Gomes

Yesterday in the first half of our Galatians 5 passage we looked at how faithfully living comes down to loving unconditionally. When love truly leads and guides all we do, then we live without even worrying about violating any of the Law, nevermind feeling captive to it. In today’s verses Paul continues this line of thinking.

Today’s passage begins by contrasting the “acts of the sinful nature” with a list of what we’ll call the “acts of the Spirit.” The list we find in verses 22 and 23 are what comes when we live by the Spirit as we practice Christ’s love. Here’s the list: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These are the characteristics that emerge and develop in our life when Christ’s love is our primary guide to our relationships, to our actions, and to our decisions.

Aligning with yesterday’s main point, in verse 23b we read, “Against such things there is no law.” There is no law against loving well. Therefore there is no law against these characteristics that come out of loving others as Jesus loves them. Further, Paul reminds us that we are able to “crucify” the sinful nature within when we live this way. How hard it is to sin when filled with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control!

This day and every day may we seek to “keep in step with the Spirit,” being people of light and love in a dark and hurting world. May it be so for us all!

Prayer: Lord God, as I seek to love others unconditionally today, help me to be filled with the fruit of the Spirit. May my life offer love to those in need, joy to those in need, peace to those in need… Amen.


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Really That Simple

Reading: Galatians 5:1 and 13-21

Verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Paul begins our passage today with a word of encouragement: “Christ has set us free. Stand firm.” No longer living under the Law, Paul has found freedom in Christ. Yes, he still wrestles with sin, as we all do, but he has been freed from the guilt and shame. No longer remaining stuck there, Paul has been freed to follow Jesus Christ and to live captive to Christ. No longer hindered by that old “yoke of slavery” to the Law, Paul stands firm in his faith in Jesus Christ and invites us to join him.

The freedom Paul finds is not a “you can do anything you want” freedom but a freedom lived within the bounds of Christ’s words and example. Paul identifies the filter for determining this line in verse 14. Here he reminds us: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Is he speaking of the old Jewish Law or of the new law of Jesus Christ? Or is it both? I believe it is both. Jesus himself said that he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5). He fulfilled it by being God’s love lived out in the world. Doing so, Jesus was led by God or the Spirit, as Paul refers to in verses 16-18. Led by the Spirit, Christ was not captive to the desires of the sinful nature. We too can claim this Holy Spirit power and the freedom it brings.

In verse 19-21 Paul gives quite the list of “acts of the sinful nature.” Even though quite the list, it is quite incomplete. That maybe being a given, the sins on Paul’s list and on any other list we can generate come down to following the single command given in verse 14. If we truly love our neighbor more than self, we will not sin against them or against God. It’s really that simple: love unconditionally and fully.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see with your eyes of love. This is where so many of my relationships and my interactions begin, with what I see. So let me see all as you see them, as a beloved child of God. Then lead me to love them – all of them – in a way that they come to better know your love. Amen.


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Jesus’ Charge

Reading: Luke 8:26-39

Verse 39: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”

Today’s passage from Luke 8 is powerful. Jesus and the disciples come ashore and are met be a man who is possessed by many demons. These evils spirits have driven him out of community. He lives alone and naked, out in the tombs. These evil spirits immediately recognize Jesus and they fear his power. After freeing the man from these many demons – notice that Jesus does not force them out but that they leave the man because he is in Jesus’ presence – the man is found sitting at Jesus’ feet, “dressed and in his right mind.”

How easy it is for us to become hardened and possessed by things. Sometimes it comes from within me – pride, anger, jealousy, control, addiction… These things can possess me. Sometimes it is from without – racism, ageism, sexism, politics… These things too can possess me. When these things, or a combination of them, become my focus, my driving force, they indeed take possession of the Spirit in me, leaving me naked, wretched, blind. But even in this state Jesus will come, will be present, reminding me of who and whose I am.

After healing the demon possessed man, there is fallout. There is a financial cost. But the loss of the pigs is not what drives the villagers to ask Jesus to leave. No, it is fear. Fear that Jesus might drive their demons out too. Fear that Jesus might change their lives too. We must also be prepared for the same response. Yes, people are glad that we’re no longer angry or controlling or biased or prejudice. But don’t “force” that stuff on them, don’t “make” them change. Like with the man in our passage, Jesus’ presence leads to change. So we’ll be asked to leave too. Yet in that moment may we remember who and whose we are and may Jesus’ charge ring in our ears too: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”

Prayer: Lord God, please continue to work in me, refining me, reshaping me, transforming me into who you want me to be. Empower me to tell the good news of what you’ve done for me. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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The Connection Point

Reading: Galatians 3:26-29

Verse 26: “You are all sons [and daughters] of God through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Photo credit: Hans Heiner Buhr

Transitioning in Galatians 3, Paul shifts from a focus on what it means to be freed from the Law and bound to Christ instead to a focus on what that means for the church and for those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As was the case in yesterday’s devotional, this adoption as children of God is not a passive or one-time event. Our faith and our relationship with Jesus Christ must constantly challenge, inspire, and push us to be better followers and better human beings.

Paul begins our passage today with these words: “You are all sons [and daughters] of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” The main point of Paul’s thought here is unity. It begins with understanding that all of us – all people, not just Christians – are children of God. Some choose to recognize this and decide to move deeper into relationship, becoming a son or a daughter when we profess faith in Jesus Christ. This begins a relationship, a personal connection. The connection point is Jesus as the relationship is with him.

In verse 28 Paul illustrates what he means by “all.” He is intentional about the 3 pairs that he uses. The Jew/Greek, slave/free, and male/female labels are the ones most impacting the unity of the church at that time. A modern writing of this verse might not include all three or even any of these. Or it might. Paul’s point is, again, aimed at unity. He calls the church and those who make up the church to look beyond any and all labels except one: son or daughter of God. And, again, the common connection point in Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus that we are all “heirs” to all of the promises of God. What a gift this inheritance is! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord of all, today I rejoice in the breadth of your love for all of humanity. Each of us, created both in your image and as you want each of us to be, are called even deeper, into a personal relationship. I ask that you would use me as you will, helping all to know the truth of your great love. Amen.