pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Sabbath

Reading: John 6: 14-15

Verse 15: “Jesus… withdrew again to a mountain by himself”.

Photo credit: David Marcu

In today’s short passage – two verses – we see the world causing Jesus to withdraw. After feeding the 5,000 the people realize the power of Jesus and some are thinking of trying to make him king. Jesus’ power is not for political/military purposes. So Jesus distances himself from the crowd to diffuse the situation. He creates some time of Sabbath – holy and sacred time to connect to God, to find renewal and rest.

It is no coincidence that I read these verses today. Tomorrow I begin a week long retreat that focuses on Sabbath and on caring well for the whole self – physical, spiritual, emotional, financial, and relational. The conference that I am in offers the retreat to pastors once every eight years. My cohort group has been meeting once a month via Zoom to learn more about Sabbath and to get to know one another a little before we spend a week together at a local monestary.

I, probably like many of you, am a bit driven and performance oriented. I don’t sit still well. It is the way of our culture, of our world. Today’s passage reminds us that at times we must withdraw or unplug from the things of this world in order to recenter ourselves on the things of God. Jesus carved out some time to draw close to God, to be renewed by God’s love. May we each do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, on the edge of these days set apart I so look forward to time alone with you and to learning more about caring well for my whole self. I am so grateful for this opportunity. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Stumbling Unbelief

Reading: Mark 6: 1-6

Verse 6: “He was amazed at their unbelief”.

As we begin with Mark 6 today Jesus returns home to Nazareth. Jesus had lived there for most of thirty years. He was a local kid that almost everyone knew. Most of his family still lived there. On the Sabbath Jesus goes to the local synagogue and begins to teach. As the people take in what Jesus is teaching about, they are “astounded”. His teaching is good; they are impressed.

But then they begin to question, to ask how Jesus acquired such knowledge, such power. They ask, “Is this not the carpenter”? Isn’t this just the kid who grew up down the street? Isn’t that the one who our daughter babysat back in the day? In the original Greek, the word Mark used to describe what was going on here was “skandalizo”. You might recognize the root word here. In the Greek it meant to ‘stumble’. Jesus had and would continue to cause many to stumble, to turn away, to leave the faith that they had found in him.

To his credit, Jesus recognizes what is going on here. He does not get angry or resentful. He understands it for what it is as he identifies the cause of their unbelief. He says, “Prophets are not without honor except in their hometown”. Because of this Jesus’ power is limited. He is unable to do any “deeds of power” except a few small healings. We too can dismiss Jesus’ power at times. We can withhold our needs from him. We can think Jesus unable or unwilling to respond to our prayers and petitions. When unbelief and doubt rises in our hearts, we too rend power from Jesus. In our passage today, we see that Jesus was “amazed at their unbelief”. When we are tempted to limit Jesus, may we hear the warning in today’s passage, lest we stumble too.

Prayer: Lord God, when doubt creeps in, when the world begins to speak into my spirit, call me back with your gentle whisper. Draw me back into close relationship with my Savior and Lord. Amen.


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Put the Spirit on Me!

Reading: Isaiah 42: 1-9

Verse 1: “I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations”.

Isaiah writes and speaks to the defeated, hopeless nation of Israel. They have been in exile for almost a generation. Many are beginning to wonder if this is their new reality. The people need to be reminded that God’s love still burns bright and that God’s promises remain true. We too can get to this point after being too long in the valley of trial or grief or suffering. As we begin Holy Week, I think of the disciples as they spent that first Sabbath without Jesus. He has just been crucified, swallowed up by the grave.

Beginning in verse one of Isaiah 42, God speaks of a coming servant, of one in whom God will delight. God foretells, “I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations”. This servant will not break a “bruised reed”, he will not snuff out a “smouldering wick”. No, the servant will bring healing and love just as God will bring back the exiles, bruised and smouldering as they are, back to Israel, back to life. The servant will bring life. He will “open eyes that are blind, set free captives, … release those who sit in darkness”. Jesus will be the new covenant and the light to the Gentiles. All will fall within God’s circle of love as revealed by Jesus Christ. In and through Jesus a “new thing is declared”: you are loved! These words will be poured out to one and all through God’s radical, unconditional love.

As I consider these words and the example set by Christ, the one who loved Jew and Gentile, slave and free, saint and sinner, rich and poor…, I ask myself who I struggle to love. As I search my heart, preparing it to allow Jesus to wash my feet and to share the bread and cup with me on Maundy Thursday, I find ones who I struggle to love. How would Jesus love such as these? Jesus would love without limit, without condition, without requirements. Who comes to mind for you?

May God put his Spirit on me and on you. May we shine the light of Jesus’ love on one and on all.

Prayer: Lord God, this is a tough thing to consider today. Who do I fail to love as you love them? What limits my ability to love as Jesus loved? Lord, I want to be an instrument of justice, a bearer of your love. Convict me by the power of the Holy Spirit when I fall short, when my love fails. Empower me by the same Spirit to love more like you love. Amen.


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Above All, Love

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-17

Verse 8: “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Our passage today is familiar to many people. When one says “the Ten Commandments” almost everyone has an idea of what you’re talking about and some people can name a few of them. The first part of the Ten Commandments is about our relationship with God and the last part is about our relationships with one another. The first three help us to remember who and what God is as we seek to honor and worship God. The last six define boundaries or morals for how we are to live with and treat each other.

I have always included the fourth commandment with the first three when considering the structure and organization of the Ten Commandments. This morning I read about the idea that #4 connects or “bridges” the other commandments. Simply put the fourth is: “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”. For most Jews the Sabbath would be Saturday. Its Sunday for most Christians. Other days can be the Sabbath too. Mine tends to be Friday. I’ve always understood this commandment to be about taking time to connect to God and to give our bodies and souls a day of rest and renewal. It is all this, yes. But this commandment also limits our drive to overwork and it counters our fleshy tendency to set priorities according to the world’s norms instead of God’s. It protects those we might otherwise exploit for our own gain. It reminds us that we are not in control of everything. It joins us with our brothers and sisters in turning towards the Lord our God.

Taken as a whole the Ten Commandments are rooted in love. The Ten are about loving God, loving others, and loving self. On this Sabbath day, may we love well.

Prayer: Dear God, above all else may I love today. May my love for you and for the other be complete and full today. In turn, guide me to love myself too. Amen.


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News Spread Quickly

Reading: Mark 1: 21-28

Verse 28: “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee”.

Our gospel reading for today and tomorrow centers on Jesus’ authority. After arriving in Capernaum, Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath. As Jesus begins teaching, the people are “amazed” because he was “one who had authority”. Jesus spoke and taught in a way that clearly set him apart from the local scribes and teachers of the law that usually taught in the local synagogue. Jesus had a knowledge that was inherent, not learned or taught. Jesus, therefore, possessed a God-given, divine authority.

During his time in the synagogue a man possessed by an evil spirit cries out, recognizing Jesus as “the Holy One of God”. The spirit acknowledges the divine power in Jesus – “are you going to destroy us”? In response Jesus quiets the man and tells the evil spirit to come out of him. With a shriek the man is freed from his demon and is made well. This action adds a layer of amazement for those in the synagogue that day. As one might expect, “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee”.

Although not possessed, we each have moments when an evil spirit rises up within us, tempting us to sin. In those moments we also bump up against the Holy One – the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In that moment, competing voices speak into our decision. Good and evil vie for control, for the outcome of that moment. The deceiver whispers lies, the Spirit speaks truth. In that moment, do we give Jesus authority in our lives? In the decision, do we allow the Holy One to have power over self?

These moments happen over and over on our journey of faith, many times every day. Each outcome determines how others see us and how they see our faith. As we walk out our days may we do so in a manner that causes “news about him” to spread quickly.

Prayer: Lord God, in each word and in each action, guide me to be attuned to the living presence of Jesus Christ within me. Tune my heart to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Bend my will to your will. Amen.


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A Relationship with God

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-4 and 7-9

Verses 3 and 9: “You shall have no other gods before me… Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”.

In today’s and tomorrow’s readings we hear Moses speak, giving the Ten Commandments to the Israelites. They have been wandering in the wilderness and are ready to hear from God. As they draw nearer to the Promised Land, God begins to give them some rules to live by. Being dependant upon God not only for your meat, bread, and water but also for which direction to go has kept the people focused on God. Once they enter the Promised Land, settle down, and begin living, it will be easier to forget or neglect God. This is our pattern too. When life is good, we often forget our need for God. When we allow busyness a foothold, we neglect God. Times in the wilderness remind us of our need for God.

The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God. In general these four are about honoring our relationship with God. The first reminds us that God is God. Therefore, we shall have no other gods. Thus, God prohibits idols – things that take the place of God. Next is another prohibition: do not take God’s name in vain. The fourth calls upon us to keep the Sabbath holy, mirroring God’s actions in the creation narrative. For Jews and Christians, there is only one God. The creator and sustainer of the universe and all life is clearly the only God. There is one supreme being. God desires to be #1 in our lives. When our focus is on God, when he is leading us through life, when we recognize God as the giver of our water, food, resources, money… then God is #1 in our lives.

Our relationship with God falters or suffers when we allow idols or other “gods” (small ‘g’) to ascend to #1. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, it would be the labor of their hands and the allure of the cultures around them that would draw their focus away from God. When we get too caught up in work and wealth and in the world around us, we too lose focus. That is why keeping the Sabbath holy is so important. It reminds us of God. It breaks the pattern of work, work, work. It draws us away from the world. When we intentionally lay aside our labors and we turn all of our focus to keeping the holy day holy, we reconnect with God. In doing so we find rest and renewal for our souls and for our bodies. Each and every week, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, bless and keep me, lead and guide me. May each day of work be fruitful. May each Sabbath be holy. Teach me balance in my life. Thank you, God. Amen.


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A Faith Story

Reading: John 9: 1-25

Verse 25: “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see”!

The gospel lesson for this week reads like a short story. There are lots of twists and turns. The story begins as the disciples bring a blind man to Jesus’ attention. They want to know whose sin caused the blindness. Jesus shares that there is no one to blame. He tells them that the man was born blind so that “the glory of God might be displayed”. To facilitate this happening, Jesus makes some mud, places it on the blind man’s eyes, and tells him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. In Jesus’ day the pool would have been used for ritual cleansing. Miraculously, the man can now see.

Because the healing occurred on the Sabbath, an investigation begins. The man is brought in and questioned. He explains what happened. The Pharisees are divided: “No one holy would heal on the Sabbath”… or… “No one could heal if not holy”. They ask the man for his thoughts on Jesus: “He is a prophet”. The parents are then brought in to verify that this is their son and that he was indeed born blind. They confirm this but will not venture into speculating about Jesus. They are afraid of being put out of the synagogue.

The man who was born blind has no such fears. The religious leaders state, “We know this man is a sinner”. They want the man to go along with them. He does not. The power of his healing is greater than the power of control that the religious leaders are trying to use. All he knows is that this man put mud on his eyes and healed him. He says to the religious leaders, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see”! He acknowledges this simple truth about Jesus. It is his personal experience. It will become part of his testimony and part of his faith story.

Thinking of our own faith journeys, when has Jesus brought healing to you? Whether it was physical or emotional or spiritual or relational, we have all been touched by Jesus. Our experience is part of our story, part of our faith journey. Ponder your line: “I once was ___ but now I ___”.

Prayer: Lord God, I once was stuck living in the world too. I once lived for popularity and the approval of man. Now I find my trust and my contentment in you. Thank you for setting me free. Amen.


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The Way of Life

Reading: Matthew 5: 21-37

Verses 21 and 22: “You have heard that it was said… but I tell you…”

As Jesus begins to unpack how he is the fulfilment of the Law, over and over he uses the two statements above. The “you have heard…” part refers to the specific law and the “but I say to you” is Jesus unpacking said Law. In this space we find ourselves between religion (that which can be legalistic and intellectual) and faith (that which is guided by the heart and can be more fluid). Put another way, before Jesus we had religion; in Jesus we find faith. A great example of this would be Jesus’ frequent clashes with the religious leaders over his habit of healing on the Sabbath. The Law said not to work on the Sabbath. Healing was work. Yet Jesus’ compassion led him to do this work on the Sabbath several times.

After a sermon on stewardship and tithing a pastor was approached by a parishioner. He appreciated the call to give to God. But he had a question or two. He wanted to know about exactly what amount does the 10% come from. He asked, “Is that after I pay for my new car, my new phone, my mortgage, and all my other necessities? Or is it based on some other figure”? A legalistic religion looks for loopholes and ways to limit obedience to the minimum letter of the law.

In our reading the first law is “Do not murder”. For most people this is a pretty easy command to keep if you are only willing to take it at its surface level. After the “but I say to you” the command becomes much more difficult to fully obey. Jesus begins by saying that we cannot even be angry with another. He also adds that this means to not speak harshly of another. Certainly this does not include gossip and slander and half truths, does it? Of course it does. Jesus backs this up by saying not to come before God if you have an unsettled disagreement still out there. What was that about “forgive us our trespasses just as…”? Jesus concludes unpacking this command by telling us to make things right with our adversaries. When one dives down deep with Jesus and looks at the heart behind “do not murder”, one begins to see the way of life that God calls us to.

Take some time to consider the depth behind the commands on adultery, divorce, and oaths. If you find these helpful to your walk of faith, consider working your way on through verse 48. That one is the real clincher. May our faith deepen more and more as we delve into the faith that Jesus taught and practiced.

Prayer: Dear God, what a challenge. In some ways religion is easier than faith – just tell me what to do. But you call me to faith – to living out a heart connection with you. Walk with me into the depths of your love, O God. For there I begin to see and understand what Jesus is unpacking in passages like today’s. Thank you for calling me to more. Amen.


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Overflow

Reading: Romans 15: 7-13

Verse 7: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”.

Stop. Read verse seven again. Slowly. The words “as Christ accepted you” are powerful. Jesus accepted me as I am. That includes my sin, yes. But, more than that, Jesus accepted me knowing that I would sin again. And again. And again. A love so perfect, accepting me as I am, is a powerful love. The “you” is also universal. Jesus’ love and acceptance knew no bounds. Many rejected Jesus. But that did not stop him from loving even these.

Rejection is something we must consider if we are to really live out this verse. To the proper Jews, the Gentiles were base and vile. They were to be avoided. But to Jesus, to Paul, to the early Christians, the Gentiles became ones to accept, to love as Jesus had first loved them. The Gentiles were simply people in need of Jesus’ saving love. The rejection did not come from the Gentiles. It came from those proper religious folks who would not go there themselves. Jesus experienced this kind of rejection too. He ate with the sinners, touched the lepers, healed on the Sabbath. Oh the things Jesus would do to love another.

That’s what this passage is calling us to. It is so easy to love those like us, those that fit the same boxes we fit. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”. For Jesus, the “you” was universal. Ours should be as well. But be prepared – some will ridicule you for ministering to that people or in that neighborhood. Some will reject you because you love and accept those kinds of people. Do not worry – Jesus was rejected too. To those who accepted Jesus, he was life. That is what brought praise to God.

I close with Paul’s closing: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.

Prayer: Oh God! Fill me with that hope, joy, and peace. Fill me so much that I overflow. Use me today as you will, O Lord my God. Amen.


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Righteous and True

Reading: Psalm 145: 17-21

Verses 17-18: “The Lord is righteous… is near to all who call on him in truth”.

The reading from Psalm 145 reveals two things about our God. In the first four words we read, “The Lord is righteous”. This word is a broad word. To be righteous most simply means to be one who chooses to do what is right. This includes not only doing the morally “right” thing but also seeking justice, equality, and generosity. The psalmist reminds us that God loves us as his creation. Much of our sense of and compassion for being righteous comes from love. Our love of God and love of neighbor drives our desires for righteousness, justice, equality…

Being “right” and loving can sometimes create tension or can even feel like they are clashing. One example would be Jesus’ healings and other actions on the Sabbath. Whether healing a man’s deformed hand or picking grains as they walked along, Jesus’ choices brought him into conflict with the religious authorities. Jesus’ question about doing good or doing evil on the Sabbath got to the deeper truth: our call to love. Here is where we can tie into the second half of today’s reading.

In verse 18 we read that God is “near to all who call on him in truth”. We are each unique and beloved creations of God’s own hands – formed in the womb, loved since that day. Because of our connection to God we can trust fully in God and in God’s plans for our lives and our world. When we are willing to release our fears and doubts, the parts of us that question God’s love and care for us, then we can live the life that God intended us to live. From a place of trust and security we can begin to look out beyond ourselves and can begin to see the needs of others. Here we can begin to address their needs. Often we come back around to working for justice and equality, becoming generous to the poor and broken in spirit.

As we grow deeper in God’s love and in our trust in God, we grow closer to the heart of Jesus. Along this journey we share God’s righteousness, love, and truth with all we meet. May it be so today for us all.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I rejoice in your love for me. I exalt your name for being the creator and sustainer of my life. May your love and righteousness be my love and righteousness. Like Jesus, may I give it away to all I meet. Amen.