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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Overflowing Joy

Reading: 1st Timothy 1:12-17

Verse 12: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord… that he appointed me to his service.”

As Paul opens his first letter to Timothy, he shares his call story. In verse 12 he writes, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord… that he appointed me to his service.” Paul overflows with joy that God called him into service to Jesus Christ. Paul’s past was one that opposed the way of Jesus. That’s what he’s referring to in the next few verses. Leaving behind that life, Paul gave up much to follow Jesus. In his ‘old life’ he was a Pharisee. His zealous faith led to him being esteemed by his fellow Pharisees. He was looked up to by society. The Jews held the religious leaders in the highest regard. His lifestyle would have been quite comfortable. And then at the call of Christ, Paul gave all this up to be an itinerant preacher of the gospel. He gave all of this up to endure ridicule, abuse, beatings, and imprisonment. And he overflows with joy that God called him to serve Jesus as Lord.

All who come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior hear his call. Responding to the call to ‘follow me,’ we dedicate our lives to serving God and others. Our calls will vary. Some are called to vocational ministry; some are called to minister through their vocations. We are also all given gifts or talents to use for the glory of God. The sweet spot where our call to minister aligns with our talents – that is where God fills us with joy. Yes, there may be, no, there will be challenges, hardships, and costs to following the way of Christ. More importantly, though, we will come to overflow with joy as we live God and neighbor more than self. This day and every day, may we know this overflowing joy.

Prayer: Lord God, it is such a blessing to serve you and others. You called me back to the path of faithful living and it changed my life forever. Use me each day as you will, however best builds the kingdom. Amen.


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Repaid

Reading: Luke 14:12-14

Verses 13-14: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”

As we continue in Luke 14, Jesus turns from instructions on how the invited guests should act to who the invited guests should be. If the Pharisees or us modern readers struggled with the idea of practicing humility, then today’s words will be really tough. At the core of the red letter words today is the idea of loving without strings attached.

Jesus looks at the guest list for this dinner at a prominent Pharisee’s house and says – you’ve got it all wrong. Don’t invite those just like you. They’ll invite you to come over sometime too and that’ll be your reward. This scenario reminds me of many moves we’ve made. You invite 6-8 friends to help you move. The help is great. But you know you’ll get 6-8 invites to help them move one day.

Jesus offers this guest list suggestion: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” Jesus offers a radical and generous vision of loving neighbor. This list is exactly who the Pharisees avoided. It is exactly who Jesus sought to have dinner with. Where does our guest list fall along this continuum?

While you or I may not have the crippled, lame, blind, or poor in our circle of friends and acquaintances, they are in our communities. We need to be willing to expand our circles. Inviting and including those that society tends to ignore and exclude is exactly what Jesus is calling us to do. Then we will be “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” This will not be a part on the back and an “atta-boy” from Jesus. This will be the joy of seeing the lost who were found and we’re saved by Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, make me brave enough to step outside my normal circles. Empower me to invite those outside into those circles. Widen them out so that all are welcome. Amen.


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Rejoice and Offer Thanks

Reading: Luke 13:14-17

Verse 16: “Should not this woman… whom Satan has kept bound for 18 long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

Yesterday we read of Jesus healing the woman. When have you or someone you know been healed of something that has afflicted you (or them) for a long time? What did it feel like to be freed? How did others who saw or experience this react to the freeing? Usually when one is healed there is a joy and an expression of thanksgiving by the person, by loved ones, and even by people who may only witness or hear about the healing.

Today we rejoice whenever someone is healed, whether from a disease or an addiction or a pride or anger or jealousy or… issue. But in today’s passage the synagogue ruler couldn’t rejoice. He was bound up by the Law. More than anything, keeping the Law represented his faith. So he calls out Jesus, albeit indirectly, for healing on the Sabbath. There’s a little hope for him though. He does tell people to come on other days for healing.

Jesus calls the ruler a “hypocrite.” Jesus reminds him that even he unbinds his animals on the Sabbath so that they can find water. He then asks, “Should not this woman… whom Satan has kept bound for 18 long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” Shouldn’t a daughter of Abraham be unbound on the Sabbath? Shouldn’t she be set free so that she can live? Jesus’ response delights the people. We all love a little joy.

Yet at times we can be a bit like the synagogue ruler. We can see or hear about someone who has been healed or has overcome something that bound them and we can wonder if they deserved it or if God rescued the “right” person. We can be guilty of wanting to limit God’s healing power. We can question the width and breadth of God’s love. When we are tempted to be stingy with or critical of God’s healing power, may we remember the many, many, many ways that God has rescued and redeemed us. May we then rejoice and offer thanks to God for healing another child of God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to always celebrate all of the ways that you bring healing and wholeness to all of your children. May joy abound! Amen.


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A Better Word

Reading: Hebrews 12:25-29

Verse 28: “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”

In yesterday’s portion of this week’s Hebrews 12 we were reminded of the new covenant established by its mediator, Jesus Christ. Today’s portion of Hebrews 12 begins with these words: “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” This word of warning encourages us to listen to the one whose blood “speaks a better word.” Jesus spoke words of hope and life, not of fire and death. The new covenant offers forgiveness and redemption and salvation. Better words indeed!

In the past God’s voice has shaken the earth. These were signs of God’s presence, of God’s power and might. Quoting from the ancient book of Deuteronomy the author of Hebrews writes, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This too is a better word. We now live in a world that is easily shaken. For most of us, our faith is a faith that can be easily shaken. In these words God promises a time when all that can be shaken will be removed. One day the new heaven and earth will come. This created world and all of its sin and fear and sickness and disease and decay will be no more. We await the day!

So what is our response to this better word about a time to come? In verse 28 we read, “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” We are to worship the Lord with joy and thanksgiving. We are to live as people filled with hope and joy and thanksgiving. We are to hold God in awe and reverence, amazed at God’s great love for us and for all of creation. May it be so this day.

Prayer: Lord God, what a promise. What a hope we have in you. Help us to lean into this promise of you one day making all things new. Yet some days I still struggle. My faith wavers. Lord, I know that you are also a consuming fire. Consume the idols that tempt me; consume my doubt and fear and worry. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Our Path to Follow

Reading: Hebrews 12:18-24

Verse 22: “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As we turn to our section of Hebrews 12 for this week, we begin the first half looking at two journeys. While the destination is the same, the two journeys are quite different. In verses 18-21 the author writes of the journey to Mount Sinai. This was a place that only Moses could tread. Death would come to any person or animal that touched the sacred mountain. Thunder and lightning and fire and smoke were frequently on the mountain. The presence of God was surely there, but the people were terrified of it. Yet out of this came the word of God, spoken by Moses, for the people of God.

In verse 22 there is another journey described: “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.” Mount Zion is the place of angels joyfully singing and of Jesus, “the mediator of a new covenant,” the one who defeated the power of sin and death. What a contrast to approach the “living God” amidst a joyful assembly. There is no fear in this vision or on this journey. And out of this came the firstborn if the church, Jesus Christ, to speak the word of God to the people of God.

There are, of course, other journeys in the Bible. Jonah had a pretty unique journey to God, as did Noah. Jacob and Gideon really wrestled with God. Each of the prophets and people like John the Baptist and Peter and Paul has interesting journeys to God. Each of our journeys are unique to us too. Yet we are all drawn into relationship with the living word, embodied in Jesus Christ and present now to us in the Holy Spirit. There is no more fear, no more dread. The old journey to God was made new in and through Jesus Christ. Mercy, grace, and love have come. Forgiveness and redemption and life are ours. Thanks be to God for Jesus, our path to follow, our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the infinitely better way that you provided through your son, Jesus Christ. You removed the impossible – keeping all of the law – and instead offered your love poured out in Christ. What grace and what love for a sinner like me. Praise be to the Lord! Amen.


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In the Line

Reading: Hebrews 12:1-2

Verse 2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.”

Hebrews 12 begins with a reminder of the past. First there is this “great cloud of witness” – the unending line of those who have lived out a life of faith, setting for us an example. In the line are those listed in Hebrews 11. Also in the line are folks we knew – parents and grandparents, pastors and Sunday school teachers, friends and neighbors. All of these witnesses provide both hope and encouragement as we journey in faith.

The journey is not always easy. The writer of Hebrews implores us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” Oh how these things can get in the way. The worries and the pleasures of this world, our proclivity to sin – they can easily derail us. Satan is tricky and sneaky and knows every trick. We are called to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” This is not a prescribed course, set in stone. No, it is a way to live.

In verse 2 we are shown this way: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.” Jesus marked out the way to live. He wrote the trail guide with his life. Therefore we are to fix our eyes on Christ. Doing so we too will pick up our cross with joy, knowing that denying self and humbly serving others are steps we walk daily with Jesus. We walk with joy because we know the promise waiting at the end of the walk of faith. The path ends at eternity as we step into God’s glory. With joy may we follow the way of Christ, one day becoming another who stands in the line of witnesses to God’s love, mercy, and grace. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, keep me in the path. Keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. Fill me with a joy that is contagious as I seek to love you with all that I am. May that joy then overflow as I seek to pour that love and joy out into the world. 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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Grounding Moments

Reading: Psalm 42

Verse 5: “Why are you so downcast, O my soul?… Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise God.”

Photo credit: Sophie Walker

Psalm 42 is written by the Sons of Korah. Korah was a Levite priest who led a rebellion against Moses, upset over Aaron being appointed to the role of high priest. Korah and his followers were swallowed up by the earth after losing a showdown before God. The Sons of Korah express their sorrow through songs of hope such as the one we read today.

The Psalm begins by expressing a longing to draw near to God and to meet with God. Tears have wet their faces day and night. Those around them ask, “Where is your God?” In verse 4 the emotions take a positive turn as they recall leading the procession to worship in the house of God. They recall the joy and offer thanksgiving for being a part of worship. Almost in response they ask and answer a rhetorical question: “Why are you so downcast, O my soul?… Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise God.” Even though they feel isolated and alone, the Sons of Korah know that God is faithful. They know that they will again worship God with joy.

We all have experiences in life when we long for God or when God feels distant or when we feel alone and isolated. Maybe you’ve not led a joyful procession into worship, but when have you felt joy from your faith or when have you enjoyed time in God’s divine presence? These are your grounding moments – the moments that you can reflect upon and find assurance and hope. Take a little time now to reflect on these experiences and then to praise God for these experiences.

Prayer: Lord God, those times when you have been tangibly present to me – these are like anchors for my soul. In the valley and other trials, they are like lights shining in the darkness, guiding me back to you. Thank you for your faithfulness and steadfast love. Amen.


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Rejoice

Reading: Romans 5:1-2

Verse 2: “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”

‘Peace and Joy’ is the title of the first section in Romans 5. In chapter 4 Paul has worked the path from Abraham being “credited as righteous” by God to Jesus’ followers being justified (or made right) through his death and resurrection. This is the basis for Paul’s opening statement in chapter 5: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our sins no longer separate us from God. We have peace with God because Jesus’ work has paid the price and made atonement for our sins.

Continuing on in verse 2 we read that it is our faith that gives us access to the grace we find in Jesus. To make the choice to believe in Christ as Lord and Savior, that opens the door for his grace to actively work in our lives. Before choosing Christ, grace is at work. It is that sense of right and wrong, that feeling that we should forgive others, that little nudge in this direction or that. Recognizing these things as God at work in our lives, we are drawn towards relationship, towards inviting Jesus into our hearts. Choosing faith, we become an active partner with grace. Through grace we are drawn to be like Christ. Practicing his love and mercy, his servant’s heart, and his compassion for the lost, we enter into justification. The Spirit works in us, refining and reshaping and renewing us, helping us to become more and more like Christ.

As we live out this life of faith we begin to experience peace and joy more and more. Living this life of faith, we, like Paul, “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Peace and joy in our heart leads to hope in the glory of God that will be fully revealed when we see Christ face to face. Until that day grace draws us closer and closer to the image of Christ. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, I rejoice in the ways that you drew me into relationship long ago. Your love and kindness, your mercy and grace – they were water for my thirsty soul. I rejoice too in the work you have done in me and I ask you to continue refining and reshaping me day by day, drawing me deeper into your renewing love, guiding me closer and closer to experiencing your glory here on earth. Amen.