pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hard Teaching

Reading: John 6: 56-60

Verse 60: “On hearing it, many of His disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching, who can accept it'”?

The miracles and the healings attracted people to Jesus. The thought of being able to see or to walk brought many. The idea of being freed of a disease or illness or of the demons inside brought others. Jesus’ touch offered wholeness and welcome back into community. The latest miracle involved food and the crowd returns the next day looking for more bread. But this day Jesus offers a different kind of bread.

Jesus reminded them of the manna – the bread that God had sent down from heaven to feed His chosen people in the desert. It offered the people sustenance, but it was just food. Jesus tells them that He too was sent down from heaven by God to feed the people. Jesus parallels himself to the manna in the sense that it must be eaten to receive life. To “eat” Jesus is to take in His teachings, to follow His way of love, to absorb who and what Jesus is so that one receives spiritual life, eternal life.

Many in the crowd struggled with this. Today we read, “On hearing it, many of His disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching, who can accept it'”? Many had just come for some more bread. Some probably just came in search of healing. But this? And this certainly is not the first or last hard teaching that Jesus will give. He speaks the truth and sometimes the truth is hard to hear.

Today some people are just like these in the crowd. They just come when there is a need. They cruise through life until a crisis arises and then Jesus is their best friend. Until the crisis passes. Others discover Jesus and dive into the relationship. But they come to a point where the teaching is hard. They love that thing more than they love Jesus and they walk away.

As followers we too know these struggles. Staying true in our walk with Jesus has its hard moments, when that “hard teaching” hits home and requires something inside to die to self. In those difficult moments may we remember the promise: “he who feeds on this bread will live forever”. May we ever feed on the Word made flesh, ever drawing strength for the journey. Amen.


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Strong in the Lord

Reading: Ephesians 6: 10-20

Verse 12: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood… but against the powers of this dark world”.

In our passage, Paul is clearly stating that we are in a battle. As Christians, we must be aware of this. We do have hope and we can stand against the enemy because we do not fight alone. We begin the battle with verse ten: “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power”. God is on our side. Next, Paul encourages us to “put on the full armor of God”. Paul is using militaristic terms to reinforce the fact that we are in a battle for our souls.

Verse twelve indentifies the enemy. Paul writes, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood… but against the powers of this dark world”. We do not fight for our souls against earthly enemies but against Satan and his spiritual forces. Satan’s ways are clever and his attacks come from many angles, so the full armor protects us so that we can “stand our ground” and so that we can “stand firm”. Standing our ground and standing firm entails holding onto our beliefs and faith in God – standing solidly on our firm foundation.

The armor Paul lists is both offensive and defensive. He calls for us to use truth and righteousness and faith and salvation and the Spirit and the gospel to defend ourselves and to remind us of the power we do have when we are strong in the Lord. He encourages us to be offensive at times, taking the gospel to others and to use the Word of God as a sword, defeating the enemy’s attacks just as Jesus did when tempted by Satan in the wilderness.

Paul closes with perhaps our greatest weapon: prayer. He reminds us to connect to God “on all occasions” and by using “all kinds of prayers”. When we are connected to God, Satan flees. When we are connected to God then we are strong in the Lord. May we be strong today, praying always to stand against the powers of evil, rejoicing in our strong defender and our eternal hope, Jesus Christ.


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One Day

Reading: Psalm 84: 8-12

Verse 10: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”.

The pilgrims are on their way to Jerusalem! There is joy in where they are headed. They are going to be close to the God they love. As today’s passage opens, the people are petitioning God to hear and listen with favor to their prayers. This joy on the journey, this sense of anticipation – is it what we have when we walk out the door as we head to church?

For the pilgrims, the joy is not just in the journey. Being there is God’s house is really the point. Verse ten illustrates the value placed on being in the sanctuary: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”. There is delight found in the place of the Lord. There is a sense of peace and strength in God’s house. Do we reflect this attitude on Sunday mornings? If we feel blessed to be in worship, then yes we do!

The psalmist also names the popular alternative. One can choose God or one can choose not to. Instead, one can live a wicked life. This is a life centered on self, filled with gluttony and greed and the pleasures of the flesh. The ego dominates and shows itself in pride and jealousy and anger. The psalmist would rather be one day with God than to spend a thousand days in the tents of the wicked. Yet those tents are crowded. The things of the world look good to those who do not know God. To the faithful, yes, they are temptations.

If we were to modernize the Psalm, what would we replace the tents of the wicked with? Today, for some, it is the cathedral of green pastures and little white balls. For others it is the sea of peaceful waters and sharp hooks. Still others prefer the sense of security and comfort found in the great comforter and soft pillow. Yes, these things do have their appeal. Yes, one sure can spend their days someplace other than in God’s courts. It is a choice.

The Psalm closes with this line: “O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you”. The world tells us to trust in ourselves, in our possessions, in our titles. But a thousand days of these things is not worth one day in the courts of the Lord. May we trust in the Lord. May we walk blameless today with our God. May we find the Almighty’s favor. Amen and amen.


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Destination God

Reading: Psalm 84: 1-7

Verse 5: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage”.

Today’s Psalm has familiar words to music lovers young and old. The opening verse and bridge to the contemporary worship song, “Better In One Day”, spring from verses one and two. A great old hymn also comes to mind as one reads this Psalm. “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” has its roots in Psalm 84. Both of these songs echo the psalmist’s key themes: we are blessed both when we are with God and when we are on the pilgrimage to be with God.

The original purpose of Psalm 84 would have been to encourage pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. They would have sung it as they traveled. The opening lines remind them of the goal – the temple. They would also be reminded of the ‘why’ behind the journey – to be in God’s presence. Verse two expresses this desire well: the soul yearns and the heart and flesh cry out. For those who have arrived, for those “who dwell in your house”, they are filled with praises for God. This joyous end of the journey would be much anticipated by the pilgrims.

The next stanza, verses five through seven, addresses the realities of life for some of the pilgrims. Verse five reads, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage”. This blessing is also ours. Once we decide to set our course with God, we too gain strength and encouragement for the journey. Once we profess our desire to walk with God, then we too are blessed. But the journey is not always joyous, not always easy. In the earliest texts of Psalm 84 the journey would have passed not through the valley of Baca but through the “valley of sorrows”. It was a dry place where the pilgrim’s tears would “make it a place of springs”. God’s presence would have been the “autumn rains” that filled them with blessings and joy. Even in sorrow, God is present. As these pilgrims journey on towards their destination, they know God’s presence as they “go from strength to strength” as they continue towards God’s dwelling place.

Whether we are like the sparrow that has found a home or if we are a pilgrim on the journey or if we now find ourselves passing through the valley, we know the same destination. This day and every day may we yearn for and cry out for God, ever seeking to dwell in God’s presence, drawing strength upon strength from the Lord our God. How lovely it is to dwell with the Lord!


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The Foreigners

Reading: 1Kings 8: 41-43

Verses 41-43: “As for the foreigner… who has come from a distant land because of your name… when he comes and prays… then hear from heaven”.

Solomon is making a request that we all want to make. He hopes that God’s name spreads and that people outside of his nation will come to pray to God. His request of God is to hear their prayers so that foreigners know and fear the Lord. I am not sure, but I’d guess Solomon’s hope comes more from the perspective of more people knowing God than from God’s name becoming famous or from enlarging the nation.

In our lives we all want to think that we welcome in the foreigners and strangers amongst us. We want to think that the least, the lost, and the broken, the poor and the fatherless – when they get up the courage to step inside our churches – that they will feel welcomed and loved. We, like Solomon, hope that God hears their prayers and answers them so that a relationship with God begins to form. And then, if they are to come back the next Sunday and seem inclined to become a part our community of faith, then we expect them to be and look and act just like us that next week. So when the foreigner returns next week they still look a lot like a homeless man or an addict or a teenage single parent or… and we realize that this could be messy and hard. The welcome becomes just a little less welcoming.

Yes, in our heart of hearts, we want all people to come to know God and Jesus as Lord and Savior. Yes, we want all people to find a community of faith where they can find fellowship and a place to worship God. We are just not always sure that we want it to be at our nice and tidy church and in our fellowship of perfect sinners. It is difficult to really pray this hope that Solomon expresses for those in our communities who are the foreigners to us. It is even harder to live it out. Yet when we look to our example, to Jesus, we see this is exactly how He practiced ministry. To all who came, Jesus offered welcome and love and a place at the table. To all who came, Jesus ministered to their needs. To all who came, Jesus extended relationship. It did not matter who the foreigner was – tax collector, prostitute, Samaritan, demon possessed, adulterer, thief… As we strive to live out Solomon’s hope for the foreigner, may we follow Jesus’ example, loving and welcoming all.


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Not Just Safe

Reading: 1 Kings 8: 1, 6, 10-11

Verses 10-11: “When the priests withdrew… the cloud filled the temple of the Lord… for the glory of the Lord filled the temple”.

Today’s passage is about the ark of the covenant – that ‘thing’ that represents God’s presence – coming to the temple that Solomon built. There is a lot of ceremony and celebration surrounding this event. I’d imagine everyone from Jerusalem and the whole countryside came to witness and praise God for this happening. Even God shows up. Verses 10 and 11 offer testimony: “When the priests withdrew… the cloud filled the temple of the Lord… for the glory of the Lord filled the temple”.

The idea of God “being in the house” continues to this day. When a new church is built there is always a dedication service where the building is consecrated to God and ministry. Each Sunday during our opening prayer I invite God’s presence to come and dwell in that space and in our hearts. For centuries in the not too distant past churches and cathedrals were built to a grand scale in an odd competition to have the biggest and most impressive structure that somehow said something about that church’s relationship with God.

Counter to these notions is our belief that God is omnipresent – that God is present at all times in all places. We can encounter God in church but also in the woods, under the overpass, on the mountain top, at a concert in the park, in a bar… Even God himself questioned the idea of a home, saying in 2nd Samuel 7, “Did I ever say, ‘Why have you not built me a house'”? Perhaps God saw the down sides of a place to “dwell”.

While it is true that a community of faith needs a place to gather for worship and fellowship, the building has too often come to represent God and our faith. Put another way, it has compartmentalized our faith. It is where we go to be in God’s presence. It has too regularly become the only place we go to be in God’s presence. While the sanctuary is definitely a holy and sacred place where one can be present with God, it is far from the only place. I believe that connecting to God only on a Sunday morning is far from God’s intent for how we are to live out and experience our faith. The building is comfortable and safe. Yes, it has its place and purpose. But God does not desire for us to have a faith that is just comfortable and safe. When we look at Jesus, Paul, John, James, Peter… we see a faith that was lived out in the world, amongst the lost and the broken. May this be an important part of our faith life as well.


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Temporal to Eternal

Reading: John 6: 51-59

Verse 57: “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me”.

Today’s passage speaks of both temporal and eternal things, somehow rolled into the same thing. Yes, Jesus did come down from heaven, took on flesh and blood, and walked this earth. Yes, Jesus did die on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. Yes, in this action Jesus’ body was physically broken and His blood actually flowed. All of this occurred in the earthly place that we now live. It all really happened.

It is also surrounded with mystery. Jesus speaks of eating the flesh and drinking the blood. In remembrance we do this each time we participate in Holy Communion or the Eucharist. It is one of the ways that we “remain in” Christ. At the Last Supper we we’re given the explanation and the words that form the sacrament that we regularly practice, remembering Jesus’ gift on the cross.

What we remember is where we cross over from the temporal to the eternal. Jesus also speaks of this in today’s passage. In verse 57 He says, “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me”. God and Jesus are eternal. They are just as alive today as they ever were. Through belief in Jesus we too will live. When we become one with Jesus, He dwells in Spirit in our hearts. The Holy Spirit is the everyday presence and the eternal promise that guarantees our living with Jesus forever. Jesus promises us, “he who feeds on this bread will live forever”.

Paul taught that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). We, ourselves, cannot erase or remove the din from our lives. Only through the power of the risen Christ can sin be defeated. The body that was broken and the blood that was spilled for our sins did not remain in the grave. Jesus rose to eternal life and invites us to join Him there one day. We are able to claim eternal life through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Once we profess Jesus as Lord of our life we begin the journey from the temporal to the eternal. As Jesus lives, one day we too will truly live. May we daily feed on Jesus through the Word of God. And whenever we come to the table of grace may we rejoice in the gift of Christ, celebrating both His sacrifice and His promise. Amen and amen.