After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. – John 5:1-9

Thanks to David Steele for this photo of one of the amazing flowers of Australia.


Three people have left the most significant impression on me of simple, child-like faith. One was a man whose name I do not recall, another to whom I made a promise, and another who taught me a lesson. One thing each of these people have in common is that they would be called invalids.

The man whose name I cannot recall lived in a nursing home in Springfield, Illinois. He had a severe case of cerebral palsy, was drawn up in his hands, arms and legs, unable to get out of bed, and unable to speak clearly. I visited him regularly as a part of my seminary field education. I recall him saying, everytime I visited, “There ain’t nothin’ God can’t do.” Poor grammar, but great theology. A faith that looked beyond his bed and bent legs, arms, hands, and fingers to the promises of God and the hope of the resurrection. I don’t recall his name, but God knows him by name, and he is with Jesus now. On the Great Last Day, I hope to see him whole strong and glorified – invalid no more.

The second man is also now with Jesus, and in the New Heavens and New Earth I promised him that we would have a foot race. He was wheel-chair bound, with a condition much like my friend in Springfield, nearly impossible to understand, but faith-filled, and smart beyond anyone’s expectation. He is his wheel chair and me, at the time suffering greatly with an arthritic hip which has since been replaced.

The Texas Medical Center is the world’s largest medical center, with more than 50 million developed square feet. The day I encountered the third person of remarkable faith, she was a patient in one of the 21 hospitals there. I had a terrible attitude that day – made worse by my own arrogance, bad choice of parking spaces and wrong choice of hospitals. There is a difference between Jones Tower and Jones Pavilion, and I tried to find her in the wrong one. I called a colleague who was very familiar with the area, and he told me, “Get in your car, drive around to entrance 3, go to the third level of the parking garage…” The trip was a 10 minute drive. The instructions were perfect. And my arrival in her room was in the atmosphere of a very frustrated pastor. Her attitude, however, was a brush of grace that I didn’t deserve: “Oh Pastor Bahn! It’s so nice of you to come see me. I was hoping and praying that you would come…” I began a silent prayer of earnest repentance.

This woman would qualify for the term invalid, but she was anything but invalid in my heart that day. So, too, the others whose faith pointed me toward a greater hope than a life of comfort and ease. So when I read this passage, I always think of the term invalid. I don’t like it, for it makes me think of people who are thought to be less than valid by too many others. But not Jesus! He healed the man at the pool of Bethesda. He asked him if he wanted to get well, then told him to take up his bed and walk.

We may be weak now, struggle with getting out of bed on some days, or overcome with a poor attitude, and beset with illness and disease. But in God’s eyes we all are valid people, graced by his love, and redeemed by his blood. In Jesus none are invalid, one day we will dance and celebrate for joy in God’s grace, salvation, and perfect healing!

Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”

11-12 The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us?”

13-14 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.” John 4:10-14 The Message

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Butterfly on Flowers at Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC


Sometimes well-worn phrases get in the way of deeper and fuller understanding. Words trip off our tongues, or tunnel through our brains without connecting with the inner folds of deeper understanding. Such is the case in regard to this wonderful encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well. This is one of my favorite Bible stories, and I have always enjoyed mining the truths and implications that unfold in it. But yesterday when I read it in The Message version, these words caught my attention:

“If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”

That, somehow, was a new thought, and I realized the implications of Jesus’ statement were deep and worthy of exploring. “If you knew,… you would ask…” That makes me wonder how many times I take God’s generosity for granted, or better yet, how many times I ignore it altogether. For if I did know how generous he is, I would ask more boldly and more often.

Somehow we forget that God is generous. And that’s truly our bad all around. We lose out on his gifts. We sell him short of his true glory. We ignore opportunities to witness his grace and power. We go on about our way, stuck in our ruts, blind to his intervention, lost in our self-absorption.

But then comes Jesus and his comment, “If you knew…you would ask.” I’m wondering how many times he is right here beside me, ready to help, waiting to be asked. This encounter helps me to ponder that today. How about you?

Note: It’s been a crazy couple of days so, although I have kept up with the 21 Day Challenge to read a chapter of the Gospel of John each day, I did not post a blog devotion for yesterday, and have not done so yet for today. This remedies the former. Followers of this blog will see the fruits of my engagement with John 5 tomorrow. I usually don’t post on Saturdays or Sundays, but this will be an exception. Also, I will post on Sundays and will try to keep that up through the 21 Day Challenge. That will remain to be seen next week when I will be in Baton Rouge for a mission trip work project, helping flood victims. I hope you are engaging in this challenge – whether or not I am able to post each day!

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:16-21

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A fuchsia tree in Stanley Park, Vancouver, Canada

This very familiar passage from John’s Gospel describes God’s love: it’s extent, place, and purpose; it’s source, intent, and result, and it’s appeal, benefit, and recipients. Consider the extent of God’s love, “For God so loved the world…” Love is not an accessory of God’s character and being. It’s not as if God’s love is offered as an afterthought, or seen only occasionally. God loved the world so much that he gave his only son.

Consider, too, the place from which this love comes. Love comes from the heart of God, it is not only part of his being, he is the source of love. For that reason God’s intent in giving his Son to the world, was not to condemn, judge, mock us or set us up. His intent was to save us. The result, therefore of God’s love was and is that whoever believes in God’s gift of love, his Son, will not perish but have eternal life.

The result of God’s gift is salvation. But the appeal of God’s love is not to those who do evil. Those who live in darkness of sin, whose deeds are evil, who hate the light of God’s truth, cannot see God’s love as being good. They see it only as an intrusion. They dismiss it as meddlesome and confining, not freeing.

We who know God’s love to be good, and who prize God’s gift as most valuable also recognize that all this is God’s work – from loving us, to sending his Son, to moving our hearts away from self-absorbed evil to deeply grateful worship. From darkness and death to light and life.

God has called us, converted us, and not invites us to walk as a child of the light.

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. John 2:23-25

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Another street-side bouquet from our time in Anchorage, Alaska

“I don’t trust you anymore,” says the young woman to her once-steady boyfriend. “I don’t trust you,” says the three-times-betrayed former best friend to his betrayer. “I don’t trust you,” says the would-be investor to the slick-talking get-rich-quick schemer. “I don’t trust you,” are saying many people today to both candidates for President of the United States. What about you? Whom do you trust?

Jesus didn’t entrust himself to anyone says John. Jesus changes water to wine, his first miracle, and his disciples believed in him. He cleared the temple of the money-changers and sacrifice hawkers, and made vague reference to his resurrection, which later would be remembered by his disciples; and they would believe in him.

People believe in Jesus, but Jesus would not entrust himself to people. Some would say that’s no way to live; we must entrust ourselves to others. But Jesus will not be hooked by the praise of men. He will not be taken by others’ adulation or applause. This is not a commentary on how to relate to others, nor about whether people will disappoint you or not. This is a witness to the steady character and clear identity of Jesus, the Word become flesh, the One through whom the whole of creation came into being.

A few years ago, I got invited to hang out with some major players in my church body. These guys were pastors of very large and influential churches, leaders and movers and shakers. Frankly, I was hooked by the idea. I didn’t need to distrust them, but I really did need to guard my own heart from believing that their approval, or being allowed into their group would somehow validate my being. But only God can do that. Thankfully I didn’t take the bait – though there was nothing nefarious about their agenda. When I entrust myself – my being, my soul, my identity – to God, I am in a very safe and good place. Jesus knew that and lived it his whole life. I want to live like that.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:1-5, 14

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This fireweed provides a signal for winter in Alaska. When the blooms are all gone and the top of the plant turns white, winter will begin – according to our Alaskan tour guides.

As I read John 1 this morning, it strikes me that God is not content to hold a thought, or merely conceptualize the truths about his being, but wishes to intersect with his creation and express his intention for us through his Son, Jesus Christ. God does not wish to be considered a mere theological construct, an invention of man, or even a needed reality for meaningful life. He wants to connect with us.

So God took on flesh. This God who created the universe, who is the light of men, who shines in the darkness, piercing even the darkest reaches of evil became a baby. This is a remarkable mystery. Why would God do this? How is it possible that God became a baby? More important, consider what he revealed about himself: for he is full of grace and truth.

God’s intentions toward us are good, rich in kindness and love, for all people, and centered in Jesus. And while he expresses his grace he does not abandon the truth about us or about himself. He will maintain his true identity, even as he takes on human flesh. He will not deny our true need nor the extent of his love. He will expose our sin even while forgiving us.

God makes all this real in Jesus, a real Savior for real people in real time. We are his creatures and he wants us to know him for real.

NOTE: We are encouraging people to take part in a 21 Day Challenge at St. John, in which people are to live as though they really believe the Good News of Jesus and want to express that faith, hope, and love in real ways. Each day we are to read a chapter of John’s gospel, by which we will have read the entire book in three weeks. Each day there are activities to begin and end the day, with the hope that people will engage with God’s word in a pointed manner. We have also been given the challenge to meditate this week on the seven “I am” statements of Jesus recorded in John’s gospel. 

They shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness. Zechariah 8:8

He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead. Colossians 1:18

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Sometimes I get very discouraged as a follower of Jesus Christ. The whole world is going after a politically correct version of the good life which is determined by man’s assessment of what is good or evil. Good becomes a moving target, based on the whim of whoever can control the media, pop culture, and money. And the target has moved far from the ways of God.

Why would God choose anyone out of such a mess to be his people? Why would God wish to identify with such a sorry lot as we? It certainly isn’t because we are righteous. It certainly isn’t because we are shaping the culture for good. We’ve sinned. We’re losing the culture war.

Yet God has chosen us. He has determined to be righteous, faithful, and true. He will not move away from his promises, or abandon his people. He will not let even death get in the way of all that he has determined to do.

Our God remains faithful. His righteousness, shown in Jesus Christ is a righteousness of perfect faith. And when all was lost – humanly-speaking – and Jesus was dying on the cross, he remained faithful. He entrusted himself to his Father, and was vindicated for such faith: raised from the dead.

Jesus is the firstborn from the dead of those who believe. So no matter how bad things get here on earth, our faith in him will be vindicated. God is faithful and righteous. Jesus has conquered death. We are his people – whether that is popular in our culture or not.

I will make an everlasting covenant with them, never to draw back from doing good to them. Jeremiah 32:40

Having been justified by the grace of Jesus Christ, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:7

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We’ve been talking lately about the term abundant life. It’s part of our mission statement at St. John, which is to make disciples who celebrate, live, and share the abundant life of Jesus. While we understand the term to refer to the more-than-enough life of faith in Jesus that spills over into and throughout eternity, we realize that others may have a different understanding. To many abundant life sounds like diamonds, riches, happiness, and the prosperity gospel. Never mind that Jesus himself used the term; people too easily take it and make it what they will.

We can, unfortunately, do the same with the term eternal life, focusing on only the sweet by and by. We make the Christian faith all about “when I die,” or “when Jesus comes again,” and are too content with little to no application of Jesus’ teaching about daily living. We make a million excuses for failing to love our neighbor, or seeking justice for the poor and oppressed. Yet we make a point of singing praises to God for the hope of heaven.

If we are heirs according to the hope of eternal life, however, we must fix our hope on eternity, even while embracing the day-to-day opportunities to express the love of God who never draws back from doing good to his people. To some degree the term abundant life expresses that idea well. Anchored in eternity, our hope is secure. Anchored in the goodness of God, our faith is sound.

One thing is for certain: abundant, eternal life flows from God who is committed to our eternal good, and centers is Jesus Christ. Our hope is anchored in him.