pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Our Stories

Reading: Esther 9: 20-22

Verse 22: “He wrote to them to observe days and days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.”

Photo credit: Etienne Girardet

Picking up the story again in Esther today, the threat has passed, God has rescued the Jews. To share this good news Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, records the event and sends letters to all of the Jews in King Xerxes’ kingdom. Mordecai wants all Jews to know how God has acted to save them. The decree had gone out to all the provinces – on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month all Jews were to be killed. Working through Esther, God saved the Jews from certain death.

Mordecai’s letter instructs the Jews to celebrate on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the twelfth month. They were to celebrate on the days after the day God saved them from. This is to be an annual celebration. On these days they are to “observe days and days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” The festival of Purim would become one of the annual festivals of the Jews. It is important to remember when God has acted in mighty ways to save God’s children. In the Christian world, this would be Easter – the day Jesus rose, bringing salvation to all who believe.

As we journey in faith we also experience times of salvation and redemption, of rescue and restoration. We all have our own personal ‘God sightings’ – moments when God acted on our behalf. While these do not become national or even denominational holidays or festivals, these experiences do become part of our faith story. And just as Mordecai shared this story and called for celebration, we too should tell our God stories and offer praise for these encounters. In doing so we help others to see how God could act in their lives too. As we cultivate this library of God stories we build up our own faith and prepare ourselves with these sharable moments that can help transform another’s experience of God. May we all know and share our God stories, bringing God the glory as we make God known.

Prayer: Lord God, you have touched our lives in so many ways. Each is a gift that we can share with others. Help us to know these stories so that we can build faith in others. Amen.


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Examples of Faith

Reading: Proverbs 31: 10-31

Verse 26: “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

This week’s passage from Proverbs 31 is called “A Wife of Noble Character.” This seemingly perfect woman is held up as an example for us all. The qualities and characteristics that she exhibits are the goal or the target. Just as we look at Jesus’ example of how to love God and neighbor with all that we are as the ultimate goal, so too is this exemplary model a goal to work towards.

One of noble character seeks to “bring good, not harm” to all they love “all the days” of our lives. This requires a frequent and intentional choice to work for and towards the good of others. Sometimes it involves sacrifice on our part. It is placing family and friends ever above self. A noble one also “opens her [his] arms to the poor and extends her [his] hands to the needy.” This too involved sacrifice but it also extends doing good to those outside of our normal circles. This sacrifice often comes with a cost too. Opening ourselves to do good to the other involves both generosity and humility – two more noble traits. One of noble character “speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” As we read last week in Proverbs 1, wisdom calls out to both the simple and to those who fear the Lord. The noble one hears and fills their heart with the wisdom of God. In turn this allows faithful instruction to be the words that they speak.

In verse 30 we read that one “who fears the Lord is to be praised.” The one who lives with a holy fear or a reverence for the Lord is indeed one worthy of praise. Those who live this way are great examples of faith. The ultimate example is Jesus. This day may we seek to bring good to all we meet as we walk in the wisdom of God.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to do all the good I can today – both for those I love and for the ones I have yet grown to love. Fill me with your wisdom – may it guide all I do and say. In all things use me to bring you glory and honor and praise. Amen.


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“Come After Me”

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Photo credit: John Thomas

In the first part of this week’s passage from Mark 8, who Jesus is gets clarified (he is the Messiah) and Jesus’ focuses the disciples in on the charge to focus on the things of God. This focus will be important as Jesus’ earthly ministry ends and as the disciples begin to live out and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

Today’s passage is a summary of what it requires to “come after me” or to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. As one theologian put it, this call is to walk so closely behind Jesus that we are covered in the dust of the rabbi. The call is two-fold: “he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” To deny self is to first love God, second to love others, and, third, to love self. This call leads us to shed our false, earthly self – the one that chases after power, possessions, and position – and to live into who and what God created us to be. Losing our old way of living leads us to find our true self in Christ Jesus.

Taking up our cross is what Jesus did as he made his way to be crucified. For Jesus, this walk was not easy. It was difficult, it was hard, and it came at a cost. Closely following Jesus we will find that discipleship is all of these things and more. Our journey of faith will involve sacrifice as we give of ourselves and our resources as we love God and others. Taking up our cross also involves loving self. This is realized as we grow and mature in our faith. As we set our minds more and more on the things of God and less on the things of this world, we find more peace, more joy, more contentment, more hope, and more love. A growing and maturing faith empowers us to deny self and to take up our cross not as a thing we must or should do, but as our grateful response to the blessings and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in our life. We love well because he first loved us and we willingly take up our cross because Jesus bore his for the salvation of our souls. As we grasp these truths and as we seek to come after Jesus, following his example, may all we say and do bring glory to the Lord.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the Messiah, our Savior. Thank you for showing us the ease with which Jesus lived out your love. Help me to live into this love so that I may bear it out into the world, offering and sharing your peace, joy, and hope as well. Amen.


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Even the Dogs

Reading: Mark 7: 24-30

Verse 28: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Photo credit: Charles Deluvio

At the start of our passage Jesus and the disciples travel to Tyre, a city along the coast north of Israel. Jesus is looking for some rest as they enter a house hoping no one notices. Yet even in this Gentile land the rumors of Jesus have crept in. Scholars believe that some from this region would have traveled to see this Jesus. Because of all this, “he could not keep his presence secret.” A woman, a Gentile, comes and falls at his feet, begging Jesus to heal her demon-possessed little daughter.

While on an attempted getaway someone wants Jesus to be Jesus, the Son of God, the healer. We’ve all been interrupted on vacation. We know what it is like. Add in the inherent cultural bias present in almost all Jew-Gentile interaction and this was a hard request for Jesus to receive. After all, he was partly human. In an attempt to dismiss her, Jesus says these words: “First let the children eat all they want”. He came to save the lost sheep of Israel, the children of God, the chosen ones. Let him care for them first. To add haste to her possible departure, Jesus continues, saying, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” The Jewish-Gentile antagonism that was all around Jesus slips out of his lips as he calls her and her people a “dog.” The Jews saw the Samaritans and others from the north as half-breeds and often called them dogs or worse.

We’ve all been really tired and in need of rest. We’ve all been interrupted when it was annoying or inconvenient or frustrating or… Some of those times I have not been the most gracious. I have said things or responded in ways that I am not proud of. Perhaps you have too. I think Jesus did this day. But the woman’s belief in Jesus as the healer and her love for her daughter is greater. The dismissive words and the insult do not deter her. She says, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” But you can heal my daughter. But you are here right now. But even us Gentiles deserve a little bit of God’s mercy.

Jesus is moved. For such faith the daughter is healed. He tells her to go home, the demon is gone. It is as Jesus said as the woman returns to her daughter. As we will also see later in the week, Jesus was not just for the Jews or is not just for Christians today. His love and care extends to the ends of the earth, covering all people in his grace. The challenge for us as followers of Jesus Christ is to allow the Spirit to work within us too, leading us to love as Jesus loved. May it be so – even when we are tired, even when the other isn’t ‘ours’ or isn’t just like us!

Prayer: Lord God, give me the strength and the courage to love well, no matter the situation, no matter how I feel. Always fill me with your love and grace so that I have plenty to offer. Amen.


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Building Up

Reading: Ephesians 4: 7-16

Verse 7: “To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”.

As we continue in Ephesians 4 today Paul speaks about unity and some about diversity. Paul begins this section reminding us that “grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”. Grace is the starting point. Grace allows us to see and walk alongside others just as they are. Grace is what allows us to sit at the table in fellowship with those who don’t see this or that exactly as we do. Grace opens the door to love.

Starting in verse eleven Paul speaks of some of the diversity of gifts folks in the church have: apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers. Not all are the same. This list is far from complete yet it demonstrates the diversity necessary in the body of Christ. Each person is gifted to “prepare God’s people for acts of service”. As the church lives out its faith in the world, the body is built up towards a “unity of faith”. Spiritual maturity – “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” – is what enables the church or the body of Christ to be of one heart and one Spirit. Growing closer and closer to Christ, grace and love abound more and more.

In verse fifteen Paul writes, “speaking the truth in love, we will grow up into him… Christ”. This truth is not my truth. It is not your truth. It is not any human being’s truth. Jesus boiled the truth down to loving God with all that we are and reflecting that by loving our neighbors as Christ loves us. Covered in grace and love, Jesus set for us the example of what it looks like when we allow our lives to speak truth. May we follow Christ faithfully, being built up and building others up in love and grace, in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, may your grace and love abound in me. When I am less than you call me to be, gently whisper your will into my heart and mind. Lead me to walk steadfastly in the steps of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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The Family of God

Reading: Romans 8: 12-17

Verse 17: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ”.

Returning to Romans 8 today we see the fruit of being a child of God. Once the Spirit dwells within us we are adopted into God’s family. We find our worth and value in God. We find our sense of belonging in Christ and in our faith community. We come to know our home is with the Lord.

Paul extends the idea of adoption to the benefits of being in God’s family. In verse seventeen he connects these dots, saying, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ”. Once we are accept our place as a child of God, we are inheritors of many things. We receive the same abundant love and mercy and grace that is found in Christ. We receive the peace, strength, and commitment to the other modeled by Jesus. We receive forgiveness of sins and life eternal. These blessings will, at times, lead us to “share in his sufferings”. There are times when our inheritance leads us to take up our cross or to love the other completely. There will be a cost. This too is part of our inheritance.

As we live into our inheritance we begin to see more as Christ sees. We grow to see all people as worthy of our love, our acceptance, our time. We stop seeing things that divide and differentiate. We begin to live out Jesus’ unconditional and generous love. We become a part of building the kingdom of God here on earth.

As we consider our place as a beloved child, may we be led to truly understand and live in ways that bring all people into the family of God.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so good to be in your family. Use me today to help others understand how deeply and unconditionally loved they are. Amen.


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A Friend

Reading: John 15: 12-15

Verse 12: “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

As we continue in our passage from John 15 our focus shifts slightly. We look at how our relationship with Jesus informs our relationships with others. Love remains the centerpiece. Understanding yesterday’s call to agape love – that unconditional and often undeserved love – Jesus calls us today to live out that love just as he did. In our opening verse Jesus says, “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”. It is a command not just to love the other as the world does but to love the other as Jesus loves us.

Imagine that the father of a young family living two doors down died unexpectedly. You buy a gift card from a local restaurant, slip it inside a nice sympathy card, and tuck it in their mailbox. That is loving as the world loves. You have chatted with them on your walks so you know them a little bit. You make the kids’ favorite meal and bring it over to the house. You help a shaken mom get the kids fed and you clean up as she gets them ready for bed. You hang around to see what else she needs – prayer, someone to listen, someone to watch the kids while she goes to the funeral home… You show up tomorrow and each next day as long as needed. This is loving as Christ loves. This is laying down one’s life for the other.

When we truly love as Jesus loves us, when we follow his commands, we are living out his agape love. We are not so much serving Jesus as we are being his hands and feet and heart in the world. When we live this way, Jesus calls us “friend” instead of servant. When we learn and internalize all that Jesus has passed along from the Father, we become a true friend of Jesus. It becomes natural to care well for that family two doors down. It becomes our rhythm of life to step into opportunities to share Jesus’ love. Loving like Jesus becomes who and what we are. Day by day may he become more of each of us.

Prayer: Lord of love, thank you for calling me friend. I want to be more, to be just like you – loving one and all without condition, without reserve. Continue to prune and shape me, molding and forming me more and more into your image. Each day, use me as you will. Amen.


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Live Agape Love

Reading: John 15: 9-11

Verse 9: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love”.

Today is the first of three days in this passage from John 15: 9-17. Each day centers on love – the defining characteristic of God and of Jesus’ life and ministry. As followers of Jesus Christ love should be our leading and defining characteristic as well. As we begin, let us clarify what this love is.

The word for love that Jesus uses in this passage is “agape”. This is not a romantic love or a brotherly love. Agape love is a sacrificial love – it is a love that places the needs and sometimes wants of the other ahead of our own. Agape love is unconditional love – a no-matter-what love. Other loves can be sacrificial or unconditional when elevated to this highest form of love. But agape love will remain sacrificial and unconditional by its nature.

In today’s three verses the focus is on remaining or abiding in God’s love and in Jesus’ love. Verse nine invites us: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love”. Here we get a picture of the nature of this love as well as how to remain connected to this powerful and divine love. God loved Jesus and, in the same way, Jesus loves us. The breadth of this love was first demonstrated in the incarnation. Leaving all divinity and power behind, God humbled himself and took on flesh and dwelt among us. This necessary step allowed Jesus to model what God’s love looks like when lived out to the full. In this we see that love is an action, not a noun. The depth of God’s love is demonstrated in sending Jesus to the cross to die for our sins. This sacrifice replaced the old system. In the old system there was a price paid too, but the guilt and shame remained. The offering of a bird or lamb or cow met the price but the animal’s life could not bring forgiveness. Only the blood of the perfect one, Jesus Christ, shed in sacrificial and unconditional love, could wash away our sin and the guilt and shame as well. Only Jesus’ no-matter-what love can do that.

As followers we too are called to live agape love. The commands to love God and to love neighbor are rooted in this agape love. This day may we love God and others as Jesus first loved us.

Prayer: God of love, the breadth and depth of your love is amazing and powerful. It is both humbling and enabling. It is undeserved yet abundantly given. Use me to model and reflect this love to all I meet. Amen.


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The True Kingdom

Reading: John 10: 16-18

Verse 17: “The reason my father loves me is that I lay down my life”.

We turn to John 10 for a second day in a row. Yesterday we were drawn to consider the present reality of God’s kingdom here on earth and to consider how we are each working to include others in said kingdom. Today we focus in on the how and the who of our task to draw others into the kingdom of God.

For Jesus, the how was laying down his life. Jesus did this literally, going to the cross to defeat the power of sin and then to and out of the grave to defeat the power of death. This obedient, sacrificial action reflects both Jesus’ love for God and for us. In turn, it draws God’s love and our love too. While we may not go as far as Jesus did with our obedient and sacrificial actions, we can certainly expect to be called upon to pay a cost as we seek to share the love of God with others. It may be financial, physical, emotional, relational. The ‘how’ will almost always involve giving something for or to the other. While this is often difficult, the real ‘who’ is harder.

When we consider Jesus’ ‘who’, is general they were Jews. The people Jesus spoke with and ministered to were often much like Jesus himself. This too is our general mission field – those we work with, associate with, maybe go to school with. Jesus also welcomed and engaged those from the edges and fringes – those society and formal religion rejected or avoided. Herein lies our real challenge. We like the neat and ordered, the understandable and routine. Our churches like these things too. But for the kingdom of God to be fully revealed, it must reflect our actual communities, in all of their beautiful diversity. To realize this we must be willing to engage and welcome those outside of our normal circles. We must be willing to be uncomfortable and unsure of the places and people we seek to connect with – only in these thin spaces will we really rely on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. Only then will the margins and fringes be wiped away by the love of God, opening our community of faith to reflect the true kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: Loving God, it’s easy to call upon or engage those like me, those inside the church. It is much harder to engage and love those who are not like me. Give me a willing spirit and a deeper trust in you. Go with me Holy Spirit. Amen.


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A Beautiful Place

Reading: 1st John 3: 19-24

Verse 24: “Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

This second half of our passage from 1st John 3 centers on our connection to Jesus Christ. John first acknowledges that we are imperfect. We don’t always love in action and truth. In those times we often feel the condemnation in our hearts that John refers to in verse twenty. Even then, though, John reminds us that we can “set our hearts at rest in his presence”. Because God is greater than our hearts – and greater than our failures – we can trust that God will continue to be at work in us, will continue to refine and shape us more and more into who we were created to be.

When we are living at our best, obeying God’s commands, doing what pleases God, we have a confidence before God. We sense his presence active and alive in our lives, empowering us to believe in Jesus Christ and to love one another. Living this way we deepen our connection to Jesus and to one another. We “live in him” and can feel him living in us. Christ becomes tangible in our lives. We feel it, others sense it. That indwelling Holy Spirit feels like a part of who and what we are, almost becoming one with us. It is a beautiful place to be. It is a place where we surrender all of who we are to all of what Christ calls us to be.

As we seek to walk each day with Jesus Christ and his Spirit within us, may we open ourselves to the love of God and neighbor, living with hearts filled with joy and peace and hope and contentment. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for those times where we have been so close. In those times my joy has been made complete. Draw me there again and again. By the power of your Spirit within me guide me to walk in obedience to your love. Amen.