pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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Only Then

Reading: Zephaniah 3: 14-17

Verse 17: “The Lord your God is with you, God is mighty to save.”

Photo credit: Kunj Parekh

We begin this week with the prophet Zephaniah. He spoke the word of God to Judah. Israel was a separate nation at this point. Although Israel had turned back to God under King Josiah’s leadership, Judah remained far from God. They worship idols, they are selfish, they oppress the poor. Through Zephaniah, God pronounces judgment on Judah’s sins.

Although Zephaniah wrote to a disobedient people in about 620 BC, the sins of his day are still alive and well in our time. No longer a Christian nation, there are many idols placed ahead of God. Finding God on many people’s priority list is an exercise in patience. In many ways being selfish is at an all-time high. We have long been a me first, just do it, have it your way nation. These attitudes and approaches to life have infiltrated many of our political and religious institutions. Humble service? And as a nation we have become experts at oppressing the poor. On the surface it looks like help. But throwing money and the most basic of services at people who lack knowledge, skills, and self worth only keeps them stuck in the same oppressive systems. The gap between those with wealth, education, good health care, and influence and those without these things continues to grow.

In verse seventeen we read these words of hope from Zephaniah to the people of Judah: “The Lord your God is with you, God is mighty to save.” These words are every bit as true today as they were the day they were spoken. When we turn to God, when we seek to walk faithfully with our God, then God is with us. When we choose to live a life that is selfless and humble, then God is mighty to save. Love is still the most powerful force in the world. But it is only powerful when it is used. Love must be a verb. When used, love brings healing and wholeness, worth and belonging, mercy and reconciliation. Love must be a verb. Only then will God take delight in us. Only then will God rejoice over us with singing.

Prayer: Lord God, turn our churches and our communities back to you. You alone are mighty to save. You alone empower us to care for the needy, to elevate the poor and downtrodden to places of belonging and worth. Use me today to bring healing and wholeness to the world. Amen.


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Known by Love

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will be their God, and they will be my people”.

The new covenant that God is speaking of in today’s passage is different than the old covenants established through Noah, Abraham, and Moses. These older covenants were with the Israelites. They were God’s chosen people, set apart for God. The new covenant will come into being through Jesus’ final sacrifice – the one we read about yesterday. The new covenant is like the old in these ways: it is centered on God’s unconditional love and we cannot reciprocate it. Unlike the old covenants, the new one is not limited to the Israelites. The new covenant extends to all people.

God declares, “I will be their God, and they will be my people” and “all will know me”. The new covenant extends to rich and poor, slave and free, Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old, saint and sinner. All are invited to the table of grace and to a place in God’s family. Jesus invited all people into the covenant of love. Called to model Jesus to the world, the charge is to love all people. Instead of holding onto our anger or judging others, we are called to be a people of forgiveness and reconciliation. Instead of categorizing and stereotyping, we’re to be people of hospitality and grace. Instead of competition and accumulation, we are to be people of generosity and community.

Each day may we be people of the new covenant, loving all people with all that we are. May all we meet know the love of God that is in us. May it flow out into all the world.

Prayer: Great God of love, your love is both unconditional and unlimited. Help me to love more like you. Give me eyes that see all as worthy of your love and of my love. Bind my heart to the least and the lost. Fill me with your love today as I go into the world. Amen.


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Looking Up

Reading: Numbers 21: 4-9

Verse 7: “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us”.

Photo credit: Carolina Jacomin

As the Israelites near the end of their journey in the wilderness they are tired, impatient, and irritable. Three weeks into Lent and perhaps a few of us grow tired of the themes of reflection and introspection. In the bigger picture, today the source of our weariness and impatience and irritability is the pandemic. As the Israelites grumble against God and Moses, they are expressing these emotions. They long to go back to what was. Tired of their current situation, they let go of their frustration via complaint. This is the fifth complaint story during their wilderness journey. God has had enough. God sends venemous snakes among the Israelites and many die. Consequences.

Like Jesus’ subversive actions in the temple, this response of God makes us feel a little uncomfortable. Our reality, though, is that we have been here too. We have had the tables turned over a time or two or… We have been bitten by our poorly spoken words or via our sinful actions. We too have experienced how the pain drives us to confession and repentance, to turning back toward God. As we look up to the Lord, just like the Israelites did, we find reconciliation and restoration and forgiveness. God is faithful and moves quickly to bring us back into right relationship.

Lent is a wilderness experience, a season of introspection and reflection. In that spirit, let us consider times when our actions have harmed or caused pain for others. Perhaps we are in the midst of such a time. What words spoken have caused harm? What actions have damaged relationships? What words left unspoken or actions left undone have allowed harm or pain to continue? To wrestle with these questions first requires a humble and contrite spirit. On Ash Wednesday we were reminded that this is the posture of Lent – a humble and contrite spirit. It is what leads to a new heart within us and to the place of healing that God so graciously offers.

The Israelites looked up to the reminder that God is in control, to the serpent fashioned by Moses. Today, we lift our eyes to our source of healing and hope, to the one who offers mercy and grace, restoration and wholeness – Jesus Christ. On this Lenten journey, may the God of love continue to sustain you and to give life, even in the wilderness.

Prayer: Lord of life, you are so gracious and merciful and kind. Your love is overwhelming, your patience without end. Just as you continued to walk with the Israelites, walk with me day by day. Reveal to me the ways that I have caused and do cause harm so that I can repent and become more like your son, the Christ. Amen.


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Partners of God

Reading: Psalm 99: 1-5

Verse 4: “The King is mighty, he loves justice”.

The psalmist’s love of and awe for God are obvious. In the opening verses the psalmist recognizes God’s reign over all the earth as well as God’s great and awesome power. God is exalted over all the nations of the earth because God is holy. It is a good and right thing to have a holy reverence for the Lord our God. Humility is then drawn forth from within us as we acknowledge the might and power of God as he reigns over the whole earth.

In the next two verses, however, we are reminded that God does not just reign with power and might. Yes, his voice can make the earth shake. But his gentle touch can also break the bonds of injustice and oppression. In verse four we read, “The King is mighty, he loves justice”. In our world today this is an odd combination. Often those powerful enough to rise into places of authority have done so on the backs of others and have lost their sense of justice and equity on their way to the top. They become insensitive or even callous to the plight of the poor and the marginalized and the powerless. Not so our God!

Our God loves justice and seeks to stand with the oppressed, the broken, the hurting, the downtrodden. God has always been a protector of these as well as of the widow, the orphan, and the imprisoned. Nowhere has this love been more evident than in the incarnation. Jesus, God in the flesh, fully lived out this love of justice and all who were oppressed or pushed to the edges of society. Providing the example of what God’s justice and love looked like when lived out to the full, Jesus then invited us to “come and follow me”. In our awe and love of God and as our response to our loving Savior’s invitation, may we too be lovers of justice and sharers of salvation from all that binds. May we become partners with God, working daily to bring wholeness and restoration and reconciliation to a world in need.

Prayer: Loving and awesome God and blessed son Jesus Christ, fill me with your love and passion for the least among us. Guide me to those places and people who need to know your healing love and your freeing grace. May I be an instrument of your peace and love this day and every day. Amen.


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Wholeness and Unity

Reading: Philippians 4: 1-3

Verse 2: “I plead with ___ and ___ to agree with each other in the Lord”.

Paul is imprisoned in Rome as he writes these words. The man who founded many churches and who was a key figure in bringing many people into a saving faith in Jesus Christ has been imprisoned for preaching the gospel. Paul is highly respected in the Christian communities spread throughout the known world. His words and writings carry weight. As he sits under house arrest in Rome, word of a dispute in the church in Philippi comes to his attention. Philippi is about 800 miles from Rome. Word would be carried across land, then sea, then land again. As he closes the letter to the Philippians, Paul takes time to address the dispute between Euodia and Syntyche, two prominent women in the church. In the opening verse above I left two blank lines because for most churches today we could fill in the lines. The spat may be past tense in some of our churches, but it is alive and well in too many others.

The fact that two women are in a sharp enough disagreement to merit mentioning means that it had significance for that church. Such disagreements often do. We do not know the source or cause of the disagreement, we just know it was doing what these things do – causing division and hostility. Paul knows these are bad for relationships and for churches so he asks a third party, believed to by Syzygus, the “loyal yokefellow”, to mediate. Again, in our churches it could be Bob or Anne or anyone skilled at bringing reconciliation. This is often a necessary step.

Division in the body of Christ does harm in so many ways. When we dig in and hunker down and refuse to enter into dialogue, we allow division to exist. When we in the church allow this, Satan is winning the day. Our community is weakened and our witness to the world is lessened. Whether one person is wrong or if both are wrong or if neither is wrong, all parties had a hand in creating division. Understanding and healing and forgiveness and grace and reconciliation must be found. Just as Paul pleads for these people to “agree with each other in the Lord”, may that be the prayer that we lift whenever needed in our churches and communities of faith. May the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the prayers of our hearts bring wholeness and unity to the body of Christ.

Prayer: Father God, where there is division, bring me words of healing and peace. Where and when there are disagreements in the body of Christ, give me words of understanding and love, words of grace and forgiveness. When hearts are hard, lead me to foster openness and care for the other. God, draw churches of all flavors into the unified church that will better resemble eternity. Walk with me as I seek to lead in that direction. Amen.


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Reconciliation and Restoration

Reading: Matthew 18: 15-17

Verse 15: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you”.

Today’s passage from Matthew 18 is about seeking the reconciliation and restoration of a relationship when it has been damaged. Above all else, Jesus’ call was to love one another. As the song goes, that’s how the world will know that we are Christians. This is especially true within the church. Here our love should be genuine and pure. It must be modeled in the church and in our relationships with one another. Jesus knew that the church would be just like all other organizations in one way: it is made up of imperfect people prone to sin and selfishness. As such, he knew that there would be conflicts and disagreements within the body of Christ. In today’s three verses we find practical steps for how to resolve conflict, especially in the church.

The causes for conflicts and disagreements can the gamut. The divide can be over deeply theological issues or it can be about painting a wall. Almost all issues, regardless of the root causes, will have deep ramifications for churches and individuals if left unresolved. So Jesus gives steps to avoid this. When conflict arises or when someone hurts or sins against another, the first step is personal. Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you”. Yes, this is hard for most of us to do. But it does provide the necessary space for being open and transparent. No one else is there to impress or to save face in front of. Going to someone directly lets them know you value them and your relationship with them enough to risk for them. It provides a space for honesty and open dialogue. Most often this step leads to reconciliation and to a deeper relationship.

Sometimes this first step does not work. Pride or who can intervene. Embarrassment or lack of understanding can also create a barrier to resolution. Jesus advises us to then take along one or two others to help guide the conversation. By involving others we often open up the conversation and find new ways to seek reconciliation. As a group we can often work things out that two struggle to do on their own. When this step fails, Jesus directs us to get even more help figuring out the conflict. He tells us to bring the matter before the whole congregation.

Both of these last two steps often involve some soul searching on our part. The sin may be obvious and surely needs correction. But if there is grey or doubt, it is a call for a time of sincere prayer and honest self-reflection. This step is always a good thing. The Holy Spirit will clarify and lead us to our best approach to the situation. Jesus does not want any division in the body. By going to the throne in prayer we are inviting Christ to guide us to reconciliation. When we invite him, he will always go with you!

Prayer: Loving God, lead and guide our conversations and relationships to be safe enough to tread into these uncomfortable spaces. May your Holy Spirit show us the way to unity and reconciliation within our Christian relationships and within our churches. Amen.