pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Choose to Love

Reading: Revelation 1: 6-8

Verse 8: “I am the Alpha and Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Today’s portion of Revelation 1 describes Christ’s return “in the clouds.” In this moment “every eye will see him.” Even those who pierced Jesus will see him for who he truly is when he returns in glory. I believe that this includes those who actually carried out his crucifixion as well as those who have pierced Jesus’ heart since that day. On the day of Christ’s return all people will see him for who he truly is.

During his ministry on earth many failed to see Jesus for who he was – God in the flesh. There were many factors that went into this – just as there are today. It is hard the not be seen for who we are. Can you recall a time when others did not see you for who you truly were? In those moments we feel less than, discounted, marginalized. A part of us inside wants to scream, to shout, ‘Look at me!’

The reality for most of us is that we have failed and do fail to see others for who they are. One way we do this is to avoid interacting with others who don’t look like, act like, think like, or believe like we do. Another way we do this is when we dismiss others based on stereotypes, prejudices, gossip, rumors… A third way we do this is by condemning, judging, degrading… others. We make ourselves feel superior and the other inferior. This keeps a wall or barrier between us and them.

Jesus experiences all of these things. The religious leaders and political rulers saw and treated Jesus as the other. Jesus didn’t act and look and practice faith as they did. Jesus did not fit inside their box. He was discounted, marginalized, made to feel less than. Jesus walked through all of this in love. The one “who is, and who was, and who is to come” understood what it meant to love those who hated, judged, and condemned. The one who is the “Alpha and Omega” – the beginning and the end – knew that love wins in the end. Jesus chose to love those that others did not see and even to love those who did not see him for who he was. May we do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, what love Jesus had for one and all. As is yours, his heart was bent towards the orphan and widow, towards the outcast and the other. Bend my heart to these too, O God. Jesus also loved those who hurt and rejected him. What great love! Empower me to love those who harm and bring suffering to me. God, help me to love all as you love me. Amen.


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Shout It

Reading: Mark 10: 46-52

Verse 48: “Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted out all the more, ‘Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!'”

Throughout the gospels Jesus takes time often to interact with those on the margins and fringes of society. These acts of kindness and mercy built up his popularity. I’d imagine almost everyone had heard of Jesus and of the amazing teachings and healings that came from him. After spending some time in Jericho, Jesus and the disciples are leaving the city to continue their ministry. There is a new destination ahead.

Bartimaeus is blind, not deaf or mute. He hears a crowd coming along the road and he surmises that Jesus is passing by. Bartimaeus shouts out to get Jesus’ attention. But in verse 48 we read, “Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet.” The people around him want to quiet Bartimaeus. What would possibly lead people to prevent a man from potential healing? What would lead them to try and keep him in his disabled state? Sometimes we like to have people below us in society. They make us feel better about ourselves. Sometimes we don’t want the down and out to shout aloud – it reminds us of our call to care for the least of these. Sometimes we prefer for those in the margins and fringes to stay there. When they draw attention to their cause we become uncomfortable because the injustice or oppression or abuse tugs at our hearts, prompting us towards action.

Ignoring those around him, those trying to quiet him for whatever reason, Bartimaeus “shouted out all the more, ‘Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!'” In faith he seems the one that can heal him. In that same faith may we call out when we are in need, especially when we choose to be blind or mute or deaf to the ills and struggles around us. In that same faith may we choose to walk with and to support those in need of Jesus, our healer, our hope, our redeemer. In faith may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, use me as a voice for the weak and powerless, for the outcast and marginalized. Make me quick to recognize their needs and steady to respond in love and compassion. As you have blessed me may I be a blessing to others. Amen.


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True Transformation

Reading: Psalm 72: 1-7 and 18-19

Verse 4: “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”.

Psalm 72 picks up on the themes of Isaiah 11. God’s “royal son” will rule with righteousness and justice. There will be prosperity for the land. This ideal leader “will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”. The poor and needy, the marginalized and outcast, will share in the blessings that come with prosperity. The rich will not simply get richer. The good ruler insures that all are included in the blessings.

The psalmist compares the falling rain to the good ruler’s reign. The rain falls on the whole land – on the good and the bad, on the rich and the poor. In the same way, a good ruler’s efforts fall on all people. Because the good ruler cares for all people, it breeds compassion amongst the people. The ones who have prospered, the ones who have been blessed, become blessings to those without. A good ruler influences the people. A generous ruler soon leads generous people. An empathetic ruler soon leads empathetic people.

We follow a leader who was generous and compassionate, who had a special love for the poor and needy, who cared for and was a blessing to all people. If we are true followers, we will be generous, compassionate… We have the power to be God’s light and love in the world. We can feed the needy, stand up for those on the margins…

In verse eighteen we get a good reminder: God alone “does miraculous deeds”. The changing of hearts, the healing of brokenness, the breaking down of walls – this is the stuff of God, not us. We can do much good in the world on our own. True transformation comes only when God is involved. We can do our part and it is often necessary. God alone changes lives. May our lives tell the story of Jesus and his love. In the process may we be blessed to see the Lord of all at work transforming hearts.

Prayer: God of love and compassion, use me today. Allow me to bear witness to your blessings in my life. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit to say and do as you will. Work in the lives of the lost and broken today, O God! Build your kingdom of love in this time and place. Build it in me. Amen.


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Hands and Feet

Reading: Luke 14: 12-14

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

The list Jesus suggests in Luke 14 is not all-inclusive. Do not think that because you do not know or encounter anyone on this list, that you are off the hook. This is a general list of who was marginalized by society in Jesus’ day. Back then there was no government assistance, no shelters, homes, or places for the blind… Add to this the Jewish understanding of sin causing said ailments and conditions, and these were the people who lived on the fringes, who had to depend on the kindness of strangers to survive.

In my last community there was a sizeable homeless population. There were lots of opportunities to serve a meal, to help out financially or with other donations, to even engage personally. In my early years my involvement was helping to cook and servr a meal at the shelter or giving someone on the street a few dollars. As opportunity arose I began volunteering one afternoon a week at a day center for the homeless and thr economically disadvantaged. This connected me in a new way to those living on the fringes. In turn, I was able to invite someone to lunch instead of just giving them the $5 they were asking for. Maybe that is past your comfort zone, but there is a place to start.

Maybe you do not have homeless persons in your community. But there are certainly opportunities to give to those in need. Perhaps you cannot give monetarily, but we all have time. In my new community there are no homeless people, but there are many struggling financially. For these, help with an electric bill or with a little food or clothing are opportunities for ministry. For those who are gifted accordingly, helping someone to budget and understand money can make a huge difference.

There are many other ways to minister in every community. On Saturdays, during visitation time, folks from church go to the jail and hang out and color with the children whose moms or dads or grandparents are visiting a loved one. Our youth decorate Christmas cookies with the residents of assisted living centers and then make them Valentine’s cards later in the year. There are many ways we can be the hands and feet of Jesus. How can this happen in your community?

Prayer: Lord, help us all to see the opportunities to serve those on the edges. Lead us to be your hands and feet. Show us how to build relationships as we minister to those in need. Amen.


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Expanding Welcome

Reading: Luke 14:1 and 7-14

Too often we help another person because we foresee repayment.  I’ll come help you move because I know we’re moving in a couple months.  I’ll come help you brand cattle because, well, I own cattle and they’ll need to be branded soon.  I’ll buy a car from you because when you are ready to buy that boat, I know you’ll come to me.  I’ll help you with your event at church because I know the event I lead is just around the corner.

In today’s passage Jesus is saying ‘no’ to think kind of thinking.  It was all too common (and still is today) to think ‘What’s in it for me?’ instead of simply being a good neighbor or following where the Holy Spirit is leading.  When we do things with these attitudes and are only willing to spend time with those just like us, God’s kingdom does not grow very much.  When we rub elbows only with people just like us, then we are keeping the circle small and the walls high.

Jesus came to reverse this.  He ate with the sinners, healed the outcast and poor, talked with the tax collectors, and worked on the Sabbath.  Jesus acknowledges that if we invite only our friends, yes, they will repay us.  He also says that then our reward will be done.  Instead, Jesus says to invite the poor, lame, crippled, and blind.  They cannot repay us but God’s reward will be there in heaven for us.  This is wonderful.  But we are also rewarded here on esrth.

When we serve and live life alongsidethe poor, lame, crippled, blind, and other social outcasts if our day, then we experience true giving.  It is giving without strings attached.  It is pure and free and feels so good.  We also experience true gratitude.  We do so within ourselves when we realize how blessed we are.  We experience it in the thankful and grateful hearts of those we come alongside.  Loving those on the margins and the outcasts aligns us with God’s ways and purposes.  It is here that we are closest to God.  It is here we are truly blessed.


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As God Loves

Reading: Psalm 146

The psalmist advises us to put our trust in God alone.  God alone is worthy of our praise and adoration.  He alone will the psalmist worship all the days of his or her life.  We are invited to join in with our praise all the days of our lives as well.

The psalmist also warns us about trusting in earthly kings and rulers.  It is pointed out that they cannot save and that they too will one day die and return to the ground.  It is a bit grim but knowing the context of the Psalm helps.  The recent kings were not worshippers of God and led the people astray.  The result has been the very recent destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  Those of worth were hauled off to exile in Babylon.  Our reality today is that here and all around the world there are good rulers and there are not so good rulers.  There are a few Christian rulers, but in general are the exception.

Perhaps the destruction and exile has something to do with the focus on the hungry, oppressed, imprisoned, blind, orphaned, and widowed.  All who had value were hauled off to exile.  Those left behind certainly needed God’s care and attention.  It was a tough, fend for yourself kind of time.

Today we have a population in all of our communities who in essence have been left behind or left out.  Our culture of me-first individualism and too busy lives have left many on the margins.  Many think the government or someone else should deal with those who are struggling, but here in the Psalm we are reminded that God really loves those on the edges.  If we truly love the Lord, we too will love those He loves.  In the opportunities He places before us today, may we love all as God loves all.


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All Who Come

Jesus taught with authority. People could recognize there was something special about Him. The disciples dropped all the were doing at a simple call to come and follow. People brought the sick and afflicted to Jesus – simply for a touch of His hand.

This phenomena was occurring at the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus was teaching in the temple and all who heard were amazed. Even a man with an evil spirit in him recognized Jesus and his authority. After Jesus cast out the demon people were even more amazed at His authority.

He was one with authority. Jesus often used this authority to question the religious establishment. He questioned their treatment of those on the edges of society. Or maybe it was their lack of treatment. Either way, if Jesus were to look around our sanctuaries tomorrow, would he see a very homogenous crowd? A lack of a segment of our community or neighborhood would indicate what Jesus often critiqued about the establish religion.

In the example Jesus set for us, He loved all who came to Him. How open are we to sitting next to the lost and marginalized in worship or by us at the potluck? Jesus took all who came. This is or call too – to love neighbor as self, to reach out to those who are alone, to share His light for all to see.

Scripture reference: Mark 1: 21-28


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All the Sheep

When Christians reflect on the parable of the sheep and the goats, in general we think we are all sheep.  We consider ourselves to all be in the flock, under the care of Christ, the Good Shepherd.  Ezekiel 34 points out, however, that all sheep aren’t always good sheep.

Even with the flock that is our church, sometimes a sheep can try to bull its way or its agenda through the other sheep.  Sometimes a group of sheep fail to take the whole flock’s wellbeing into consideration.  Sometimes the flock doesn’t notice the ones on the edge, struggling to make it out there on the margins.

As Christ’s body we are all connected together, all a part of one another.  The Good Shepherd is concerned with all of the sheep.  He calls us to be concerned with all as well.  As we grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ, we too gain eyes to see the needs and hearts that seek to love.  As Jesus cares for and loves us, we are in turn empowered to love and care for each other, especially the ones that are struggling and lost.  The blessings that God has entrusted us with are meant to be shared so that all may be blessed.

Scripture reference: Ezekiel 34: 20-24