pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Welcome Him, Welcome Me

Reading: Philemon 1-21

Verse 17: “Welcome him as you would welcome me.”

Photo credit: Markus Spiske

Philemon is a unique book in the Bible. This short letter is personal in nature but has wide application. It is written to one man, Philemon. The letter addresses a unique situation. Onesimus is a slave who stole from Philemon and has run away from him. Fleeing to Rome, probably hoping to blend into this big city far away, he encounters Paul and his life is forever changed. Onesimus comes to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He longs to return home, to go back to Philemon. Paul appeals to Philemon “on the basis of love.” Paul asks Philemon to “Welcome him as you would welcome me.” Onesimus is now “useful” and wants to live a different life, a good life.

We all know people who have been difficult or hard to be around. Maybe they’re unhappy with their situation, like Onesimus used to be. A change of scenery leads to a change of heart. They return a different person, eager to reconnect. Sometimes we, like Philemon, need a little encouragement, a little prompting to fully receive them back. Paul uses his influence and the basic tenets of reconciliation and forgiveness in his appeal to Philemon. These are things we too have in our life and faith that we can use to build connections.

In our current culture there are many opportunities to practice the love of Christ and the acts of forgiveness and reconciliation. Division and barriers are abundant. As a society we are polarized, often galvanized in our positions. Acting in Christian love, walking in humility, we can walk across those gaps, past those walls. Living and loving as Christ did, we can seek to build unity, to begin reconciliation, to offer forgiveness to those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we seek to welcome these as we would welcome Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, you call us to live all people because all people are our brothers and sisters, all are created by you. So fill me with your love, fill me to overflowing. Use that overflow to begin the healing and reconciliation needed in our world. In your healing, may we all become one in the Lord. Amen.


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Life Abundant

Reading: Colossians 2:16-19

Verse 19: “The whole body, supported and held together by it’s ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.”

The second half of our Colossians passage invites us to focus in on Jesus Christ as our hope and strength. Paul says, in essence, don’t worry about what the world does or thinks. These things are but a “shadow.” The reality of what really matters is found in Jesus Christ. Paul says to ignore those with false humility, those who brag about their faith. They have “lost connection” with the source of faith: Christ. Paul closes this section by reminding the Colossians and us, “The whole body, supported and held together by it’s ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.”

The church, the “body,” is held together by “ligaments” and “sinews.” In reality, this is true. But in the analogy that Paul is making, what are the ligaments and sinews of the body called the church? I would argue today that the ligaments are our acts of piety – serving one another, caring for the needy, praying and worshipping together. The sinews are our acts of mercy – practicing mercy and grace, offering forgiveness and reconciliation, personal study, prayer, and fasting. When lived out individually and as a body of Christ, the “body grows as God causes it to grow.”

To grow both spiritually and physically, the body must live out faith, striving to bring others to faith, inviting others to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This begins by loving others as Jesus first loved us. This leads to radical hospitality and genuine fellowship. Relationships flourish as life abundant is shared in Christian community. This day and every day may this be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, bless the body today. Wherever and however your people gather this day, may their worship be glorious and their fellowship rich. In all hearts turned to you, draw them deeper into their love for you and for one another. May your kingdom come. Amen.


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Ask, Seek, Knock

Reading: Luke 11:5-13

Verse 9: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Today’s second portion of this week’s passage from Luke 11 begins with an illustration. A man has an unexpected guest. He has no bread so he goes to a neighbor, asking for bread. At first he is denied – “I can’t get up and give you anything” – but the neighbor relents because the friend at the door was so persistent. He was bold in his asking.

Continuing on, Jesus says, “So I say to you, ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.‘” Jesus is encouraging us to be bold and persistent. Begin with prayer. Ask God. Tell God the desires of your heart and the needs of your life. Ask God where you can be used today. Then turn to scripture. Seek encouragement if that’s what is needed. Maybe it’s assurance or direction or guidance that you need. They’re all in God’s word. Seek holy input. Lastly, take action. Knock on a door, send a note or a text, serve at a local organization, mow a neighbor’s lawn. Allow the asking and seeking to guide your doing. Be bold and live out what you’ve prayer for and found scriptural support for. Be persistent and trust in God. God is faithful.

This pattern applies to this week’s theme of reconciliation. Whether it is the hard work of personal transformation (reconciling oneself to God) or the challenging work of forgiveness (reconciling ourselves to another or to God) or the difficult work of social reconciliation (fixing or creating new and just systems), we begin with prayer, turn to scripture, and then take action. Rooting and founding our efforts in our relationship with God is essential to building the kingdom here on earth. Day by day, may we work to make it so.

Prayer: Lord God, I ask that you would daily guide my life. As I turn to your word and particularly to Jesus Christ, the living word, show me the way to live and be your light and love in the world. Then put me to doing. Use me as you desire as we seek to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Pray (and Live) for the Kingdom to Come

Reading: Luke 11:1-4

Verse 2: “Your kingdom come.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As we turn to Luke 11, we see that this week’s theme of reconciliation continues. In the opening 4 verses we read Luke’s version of what has become known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” (The longer version is found in Matthew 6.) In this prayer example that Jesus gives, forgiveness is a key feature. Jesus teaches the disciples to ask God to forgive their sins “for we also forgive.” There is an indication that we are to forgive others if we desire for God to forgive us.

The art of forgiveness can be tricky. Sometimes, usually most often, our apology is sincere and earnest and the one we hurt or offended accepts it and our relationship enters the reconciliation phase. But once in a while our apology is rejected. Perhaps the hurt was too deep to forgive. Perhaps there are other factors, such as past history with us or past experiences outside of our relationship. Some of the time the other person needs more time and space to process the situation. It is hard when reconciliation does not come. Yet we cannot force it. We must offer grace nonetheless. This is something God alone supplies.

In verse 2, after acknowledging that God’s name is holy, Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come.” At the point of Jesus’ time on earth the world had already become much less than God intended it to be. So, after the salutation, Jesus first instructs the disciples to pray for the kingdom of God to come. When we pray this we are asking that love and justice, grace and mercy, compassion and forgiveness, generosity and reconciliation be the new norms in our world. Looking at our world today, what a radical prayer this is. Yet it is so needed. So as Christ followers may these three words be both our intent and our resulting action as we pray and then live out these words. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, things roll on as they are, day by day. Same old, same old. Until change is made, sometimes forced. May I be used today as a part of breaking your kingdom into this world. Amen.


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Righteousness Will Go Before Us

Reading: Psalm 85:8-13

Verse 11: “Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.”

As we continue today in Psalm 85 we also continue to look at reconciliation. In verse 8 the process begins with listening to God while not returning to sinful living. This would indicate really hearing and taking to heart God’s vision for our lives and for our world. There is a two-fold benefit to these practices. First, salvation comes “near those who fear the Lord.” Second, God’s glory is revealed to the world.

Reconciliation requires that both parties are equally involved. In verse 10 we see that God brings love and righteousness while the people bring faithfulness and peace – peace with God and with one another. Both parties role is echoed in verse 11: “Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.” Reconciliation is a process. As I wrote about yesterday, time and effort are required. One does not go from unfaithful to totally faithful in an instant. This process requires growth and transformation.

Our hearts and minds should be drawn to our world when we think of reconciliation. Without much effort one can see the brokenness of many of our systems. Whether urban or reservation, whether jailed or caught in addiction or human trafficking, there are many people trapped in these systems. To offer true reconciliation between people and to create new systems that offer growth and transformation, we must see the past as our teacher and our faith as our way forward. Doing so our world could begin to live into the promises of verse 12. God is good and desires good for the world. God is righteous. God’s righteousness will go before us, preparing the way and guiding our steps. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and my heart to the brokenness in my community. Reveal to me the places to go to bring your healing to our world. Use me as part of your plan to reconcile and restore our land. Amen.


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Rebuild and Restore

Reading: Psalm 85:1-7

Verse 4: “Restore us again, O God our Savior, and put away your displeasure towards us.”

Psalm 85 is written after the punishment and exile that Hosea foretold. God has allowed the people to begin returning and rebuilding what had been destroyed, both physically and relationally. Leaving Babylon, God “showed favor” and “restored the fortunes of Jacob.” God forgave their sins and “turned away from your fierce anger.” Things have gotten better, but…

Have you ever had a really big fight with your spouse or with a good friend? After some time apart, you begin to talk again. Yet all is not fixed, right? Reconciliation and restoration is the goal but you’re not quite there yet. Words must be spoken, behaviors demonstrated in order to begin to repair what was wounded or broken. Often trust must be rebuilt. This is where God and Israel are in their relationship.

In verses 4-6 the psalmist expresses a longing to get back into right relationship with God. There is an implication that Israel feels ready. Lessons have been learned. Humility and reverence are again present. It is usually the party that is at fault who first longs to re-enter relationship and to put the ugliness behind them. In verse 7 the writer asks God to “Show us your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.” Israel longs to be made whole again.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all sinned and created separation between God and ourselves. Today’s text is a good reminder of how we can reapproach God as we seek to rebuild and restore our relationship with God.

Prayer: Lord God, I long to live in a full and complete relationship with you. So often, though, I get in the way. My pride, my selfishness, my desires create a distance between us. Help the me inside to become less and less so that you can become more and more. Amen.


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Witness to Love

Reading: John 13:21-32

Verse 21: “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”

In today’s reading from John we see Jesus identifying his betrayer. Speaking of Judas Iscariot he says, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” A few verses later Jesus gives him a piece of bread dipped in the dish to identify which of the 12 will betray him. Imagine how Jesus felt to know that one of the 12 who have spent three years with him, seeing the miracles, hearing the teachings, would betray him.

In reality, though, it’s not hard to imagine how Jesus felt. We’ve all felt the sting of rejection, the pain of a friend’s hurtful words or actions, the hurt of being betrayed by friends or family. Living in a selfish and lustful time, these different experiences are all too common. Adding on are our polarization of almost all things and the accompanying “cancel culture.” To identify with, to feel what Jesus felt in today’s passage – all too common.

What is our response? What is our Christian witness to this current culture? Let us also look to today’s passage to find our answers. Jesus does not exclude Judas. He does not berate him and banish him from the group. It’s just the opposite. Taking in the whole gospel account we see Jesus including Judas in the foot washing and in the first communion. What a witness to loving those who hurt us, to including even those who seek to harm us.

Yes, there is a point when personal safety or other factors do merit ending a relationship. But in today’s world we tend to make this decision when that point is still a long way off. It’s the easy way out. May we choose Jesus’ witness instead. When we are hurt, rejected, even betrayed, may we extend an invitation to the table. May we offer grace and may we seek to be peacemakers and people of reconciliation. Doing so we will witness to the one who loves without condition, to the one who desires community with all. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, move me past my hurts and sensitivities to love and be more like Jesus. Amen.


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Christ’s Ambassadors

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:16-21

Verse 20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making the appeal through us.”

Photo credit: Ruthson Zimmerman

In our 2nd Corinthians 5 passage, Paul says we are Christ’s ambassador. To understand what Paul is saying, we need to know what an ambassador is. In a general sense, an ambassador is an envoy or a representative. We have government ambassadors who work in embassies all around the world. When two cities form a sister-city relationship, an ambassador goes to represent their city to the other. Sports leagues and all sorts of other organizations have ambassadors too. Ambassadors strive to represent the best that their country, city, sport, organization… has to offer. They share all the good that can be had or found in that connection or relationship. If something bad happens, the ambassador does everything they can to make it right again.

What does it then mean to be an ambassador for Christ? It first means that we share the very best that Christ has to offer to the world. This begins by doing everything in love. We do this by lifting others over self. We’re talking humble service here. It is continued by being merciful and gracious to all. It is practiced with generosity and through radical hospitality. And when we err, when we mess up, when we are less than Christlike, the love is demonstrated by seeking forgiveness and by working towards reconciliation to restore any damage to the relationship.

Living and acting as Christ’s ambassador, God is making “the appeal” through us. The appeal is to live and love this way too. The joy and hope, the peace and contentment, the genuine love for others – these draw people to Christ. A good ambassador represents the best of what Christ has to offer. May we live each moment cognizant of our call to be Christ to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, may all I meet experience the love of Christ. Pour it out of me, into the lives of others, drawing them towards Christ. May my joy and hope be appealing to those without. Amen.


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Deeper Forgiveness

Reading: Genesis 45:9-15

Verse 15: “And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them.”

After clearly declaring that God has worked through difficult things to bring good (yesterday’s passage), Joseph implores his brothers to hurry back with their father, their families, and with all they own. He says, “Don’t delay.” Joseph is anxious to see his father Israel (or Jacob). He wants to set his whole family up in Goshen, where he can see them through the famine that will last five more years. Not only does Joseph offer forgiveness, he also wants to restore their relationships and to provide for his family.

Sometimes when we offer another forgiveness, it is because it is the “right” thing to do. And that’s as far as it goes. Other times we say we’re sorry because we know we too were in the wrong. Looking back on his life, Joseph could certainly discern why his brothers sold him into slavery. The other experiences in his life humbled him and opened his eyes up to see God’s work in his life. When we can see and own the way we contributed to the hurt or the suffering, then forgiveness takes on a deeper level. It leads to reconciliation, to a stronger relationship, and to growth in ourselves and in the other person. This is revealed in our passage in the way Joseph spoke and acted. In verse 15 we read, “And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them.” Signs of affection and tears of joy reinforced the invitation to come and live in his care.

As we seek to be people of grace and love, may we live honest and humble lives, seeing our role in our relationships and understanding how what we say and do always matters. In all things may love be our guide.

Prayer: Lord God, bring me a deeper self awareness, a stronger sense of how to live and love as Christ did. Especially in those hard times and situations, raise up the Holy Spirit within me to lead me to better model Jesus Christ to the world. Amen.


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A Faith Like This

Reading: Luke 6:17-19

Verse 19: “All tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.”

Photo credit: Clay Banks

As we turn to Luke 6 for the last 3 days of this week we see that Jesus is attracting many people. “A large crowd”… “a great number” come to see Jesus, to be healed, to learn from him. From verse 17 we can discern that the crowd was a mix – some were disciples or followers of Jesus and others were not quite there yet.

Three things drew people to Jesus: his presence, his wisdom, and his power to heal. Although one thing drew this person at this time or that person for that need, it is hard to separate these three things. For many, though, it was the last that drew them. In verse 19 we read, “All tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.” There was power simply in Jesus’ presence.

As followers of Jesus we are called to imitate Jesus. We are to be present in the world. Our faith is not just a Sunday morning thing, but is something that permeates all of our life and even our very being. Our faith is to have depth and wisdom. We are to have deep roots of faith that bring hope into darkness and love into brokenness and suffering. We are to be grounded in our faith, able to speak words of God into different situations and able to share our stories of when God intervened in our lives. We are to bring healing to the world and to the lives of people we meet. In all the ways that we can we should be people of healing and reconciliation, bringing hope to our broken and hurting world.

Practicing a faith like this we too will draw others to us and then on to the Jesus we follow. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to transform lives. Guide me to people and places of brokenness, offering your love and grace and healing touch. Amen.