pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God Is Greater

Reading: Mark 9: 30-32

Verse 32: “They did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him about it”.

Jesus found some private time with His disciples. He wants to begin to prepare them for a radical change that is coming. Jesus tells them plainly that He will be betrayed and killed and then will rise. I imagine most of the disciples did not hear much after the word betrayed. It is one of those words that stop us in our tracks. It takes time, perhaps a lot of time in some cases, to get back in the conversation.

Some words do this to us. We hear just that one word for a period of time. There are some universal words that do this – cancer, stroke, dementia, and so on. Sometimes the words are more specific. If it is a conversation between spouses, words like infidelity and divorce halt the mind’s thoughts. In today’s passage, the disciples are Jesus’ most intimate and personal friends. They have spent 24-7 with Him for quite a while now. Betrayed. At that word, most probably recoiled and began to look first around the group and then within. Who? Who could do such a thing? Could I? The word stung.

What causes words such as these to have this halting effect? It is because they trigger fear. They cause doubt. They raise up the unknown and the uncertainties. Our mind can quickly create worst case scenarios or it can simply get stuck right there. What choice do we have? What alternative can we take?

We can choose to trust in God, to turn to Him in prayer, to seek His presence. God may not answer our prayers right away or even the way we want (eventually), but He will be immediately present. In that presence we find peace in the experience and hope for all possibilities. We are also reminded of the end of the story. For those in Christ, it is always a beautiful ending.

Our passage tells us, “They did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him about it”. Fear is powerful. But God is greater. Turn to God, place your trust in Him, abide in His love.

Dear God, help me to quickly turn to you when fear rises up. Make this my natural reaction. Always remind me of your eternal love and promises. In those days, draw me near to you, strengthen me for the trial, walk with me. Amen.

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A Beautiful Vision

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 19: “You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens… with Jesus Christ himself as the cheif cornerstone”.

There is an old saying about fences not making good neighbors. They separate and keep us apart. Fences are like barriers. Each one of us is a unique creation of God. As unique creations we have characteristics that can make us look and feel and seem different from one another. “Can” is an important word. How we see each other is dependent upon our perspective.

In Ephesians 2, Paul is writing about the family of God. As Christians, this should be our identity. Through Jesus Christ, God reconciled all people to Himself. In Jesus’ eyes there is no skin color, no ethnicity, no gender, no past, no… All are His brothers and sisters. All are part of the family. There are no “foreigners and aliens” but only “fellow citizens” in God’s family.

We are united by Jesus Christ as we are “brought near through the blood of Christ”. It is His blood that washes away our sin. It is only our sin that separates us from God and, therefore, from the family. Sin is the only barrier that God sees. Through Jesus Christ we are restored and renewed and are made acceptable in God’s sight. This, to me, is why Jesus is the “chief cornerstone” – upon Jesus we all stand.

When this is our understanding of how we, sinners all, are made new creations who stand blameless in the family of God, then our understanding of each other is no longer earthly but heavenly. Like our sins, in Christ all the things that could separate us and could create barriers are also washed away. From this perspective, we are all simply children of God, united by the one Spirit. When we see each other this way, we see as Jesus sees. It is a beautiful vision for our world. May we each help this to become a bit more of a reality today. Amen.


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Reclaim

Reading: Ephesians 2: 1-10

Verse Four: “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”.

Shows on TV that take old houses in Detroit or rural Mississippi and turn them into beautiful homes really draw my attention. The home is rundown, is sometimes abandoned, and is left to fall apart. But then someone sees the potential in the old bones of the house and they dive in and bring it new life. What it was and what it becomes is amazing.

In a similar way, in today’s passage, Paul writes of us: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins”. We were falling apart on the inside, we were destined for destruction, we were objects of God’s wrath. This is the path we walk when left on our own. It is the natural order of the world: decay. But we are not of the world. Just as that home rehab expert the beauty that is possible, so too does God with us. Paul writes, “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”. God reclaims us, taking away all that is sinful, making us one with Christ.

In the same way that a house in Detroit or Laura is claimed, we too are claimed by God. God knows the potential in each of us, the potential that He created us with, and He desires to free us to begin living out that potential. God makes us beautiful from the inside out so that we can be good in the world. Paul writes in verse ten that we are “God’s workmanship” and that we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works”. Through our rehab process we are made new again so that we can be His light and love in the world.

The claim that God lays upon us is eternal. Once we enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, then our ‘status’ is saved. Yes, we may stumble now and then, but we always remain a sinner saved by grace alone. So that we cannot boast, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith”. It is the free gift of God’s love that saves us. Thanks be to our God who reclaims us from our brokenness and our mess, restoring us to new life in Christ. Thank you God! Amen.


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Mary

Reading: Luke 1: 46-55

Verse 46: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”.

Shortly after Mary received the news that she will carry the Holy One in her womb, she has gone to see Elizabeth, her cousin.  The angel told Mary that Elizabeth was also with child.  So Mary goes to see this thing for herself – old and barren Elizabeth with child.  Mary also goes because perhaps she senses that Elizabeth is someone she can share her news with as well.  After all, Mary’s news is not exactly news that she could go tell all her friends about.  When Mary and Elizabeth greet each other, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps at the sound of Mary’s voice and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit.  Elizabeth knows that Mary has been blessed and she herself feels blessed at being in the presence of the unborn Lord.  She also recognizes Mary’s faith, saying, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished”.

There is a deep understanding in these two women that God is at work in them and is about to accomplish the impossible in both of them.  It is from this place of understanding that Mary spontaneously offers her song.  It is a beautiful telling of both God’s deeds with and for Israel and of God’s work in her in particular.  Weaving these two together shows Mary’s understanding of how closely connected these two are – Israel and the birth of he child.  She begins by exclaiming, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”.  Mary is joyful and exuberantly praises what God is doing in her.  Mary also recognizes the forever impact of what is happening, saying, “All generations will call me blessed”.  She is aware of what is happening and speaks with a wisdom and insight well beyond her years.  The Spirit is indeed at work in Mary.

The same Spirit desires to be at work in each of us.  The same God is capable of doing great and amazing things in and through us as well.  May we be as joyful and faithful as Mary when the Lord begins a good work in us!


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Glorious and Beautiful

Reading: Matthew 25: 1-13

Verse 6: “Here’s the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him!”

In our parable today, ten bridesmaids await the arrival of the bridegroom.  The festivities cannot begin until he arrives and ushers in all of the bridesmaids.  It will be quite a party.  A wedding banquet lasted days and was a demonstration of all that the host family could offer.  It was an event full of joy and laughter and celebration.  Of course these ten bridesmaids cannot wait!

Then the shout goes out: “Here’s the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him!”  What excitement!  But when the bridegroom arrives we find that five of them were not really prepared.  They only came with some oil in their lamps and must go and to get more.  There must have been some indecision at this point – stay and hope I have enough?  Go and get more oil?  All must have wished they had filled their lamps before coming to the banquet.  All must have wished they were prepared when the call came that the bridegroom was on the way.  It is sad that they cannot enter the banquet.

But what joy for those who were prepared, for the five who did get to enter the wedding banquet.  They step inside and see the beautiful hall, well-decorated for the occasion.  They smell the lavish and tasty food prepared for the celebration.  They can sense the emotional buzz, the excitement.  The five step inside the door that the bridegroom hols open for them and they become a part of this beautiful and glorious scene.

One day we too will stand at that door.  One day we too will have the opportunity to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant.”  As we read the Word of God each day, we hear the call of God’s love.  As we pray and get connected to God, we sense His love covering us as we pray.  As we worship, we are in God’s presence.  We are preparing for the day.  All these ways we connect to and experience God in the day to day of life are just glimpses of the day to come.  It’s just a small taste of the moment we walk through that door and enter forever into God’s light and love.  What a glorious and beautiful day it will be!  Amen and amen.


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Diverse and Inclusive

Reading: Revelation 7: 9-17

Verse Nine: There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language.

The opening verse for our passage today again paints a beautiful picture of heaven.  It is the heaven that each who call on the name of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will inherit.  Verse 9 reads, “There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language”.  It is a vast crowd, one so large that it cannot be counted.  It is a very diverse crowd, just as God desires.  This gathering that represents wonderful diversity and open inclusion draws people from all walks of life and from all corners of the globe.  It is the result of the Great Commission.

If this is what heaven will be and look like, is this what our churches and our circle of friends should be and look like?  Absolutely.  Most churches think they are welcoming and open and, indeed, most are.  Most people think of themselves as caring and loving and friendly people, and most of us are.  But being welcoming and caring and loving and friendly doesn’t necessarily include or draw in those who are the least and the lost of our communities and our neighborhoods.

Our church is like most.  There are two main tribes of people in our community, but only one tribe is represented in our church.  There are rich and poor and people in between in our community, but not many who are struggling economically call our church home.  These two examples are but two of the many who are missing from our body of Christ.  A snapshot of worship on a Sunday morning would reveal that we are very homogeneous.  Our community is not.  Our question may be asked at many other churches as well: how do we become more wonderfully diverse and openly inclusive?

It begins by getting to know those in our community who are not present in our churches.  We then must shift to being continually invitational with those we meet and get to know.  As Christians, we must be invitational, inviting others into Jesus’ love.  Then we must be willing to offer radical hospitality.  It is the hospitality practiced by Jesus.  It is the live modeled by Jesus.  It is the love of a humble servant, willing to give of oneself for the other.  It is a love that seeks to make people’s lives better – spiritually, emotionally, economically, socially,…  It is a love that engages people from all walks of life and from every neighborhood in our communitied.  May this be the love that is in us and is in our churches.  May this be the love that flows out of each of us and out of all of our churches.


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Sing a Song

Reading: Psalm 149

Verses One and Three: Sing to the Lord a new song… Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him…

The psalmist writes, “Sing to the Lord and new song”.  New songs can spring up in us when God is present or acts in our lives.  Singing to God is one way we can express the joy or strength or love we feel when we encounter God personally in our lives.  Our song does not need to have four-part harmony or beautiful accompaniment or even have to be in tune – it can simply be praise lifted to God.  It can be as simple as a prayer that is hummed to God, giving thanks for His presence or saving grace or guidance or whatever He has blessed us with.

Expressing our praise to God and our love for God are the essential elements of a new song.  These can come from something as simple as a walk in the woods or along the shore.  The noises of the birds and the sounds of the water can be the music that accompanies your prayer to God for the time and place you find yourself in.  Feeling moved to praise God can come from an impactful experience as well – the birth of a child, the celebration of a saintly life, the gift of marriage.  In each of these events the power and presence of God can well up in us like a mighty spring, bursting forth in song from the depths of our heart.  Some of these experiences can lead to joyful exultations and others to a soul-felt waltz with the memories of life intertwined with someone so dear.  No matter the lyrics or the meter or the genre, each expression of praise and love can be an outpouring of praise to our Lord.

The day ahead may bring a powerful and joyful encounter with God or it may be a quiet moment when He reaches out and touches our soul.  Either way may we respond with a new song of praise and worship for God’s blessings in our lives.  May we find joy as we sing a new song to the Lord!