pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Celebrate, Rejoice!

Reading: Esther 7: 1-6 & 9-10

Verse 3: “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”.

The Jews are living as a foreign people, living in exile, scattered throughout the land. In the midst of the foreign culture all around them, they are trying to hold onto their faith, their beliefs, their traditions. Over the years, the Jews have become a part of the fabric of society. One happens to win what is in essence a beauty contest and becomes the queen. Her Jewish faith is strong, but it is practiced privately. A man, her uncle in fact, also has kept his faith in God as an essential part of his life. In doing so, he refused to bow down to a high court official. This slight enrages the man, Haman, and he gets the king to sign an edict to wipe out the Jews. It wasn’t enough to just get revenge on the man.

As the date for the Jews’ destruction nears, Mordecai, the man who refused to bow down, enlists his niece, Esther, to help stop this evil plan. Esther also happens to be the queen. After fasting and praying for three days, Esther approaches the king and sets up a fancy dinner that includes Haman. It is in this setting that the king asks Esther what her petition and request are. Esther answers, “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”. King Xerses is outraged that anyone would dare to do such a thing to Esther and her people. Haman suffers the consequence, being hung on the gallows that he had made especially for Mordecai.

This is a great story of faith in God and of God saving His people. The story is remembered in a yearly festival called Purim. Corporately we also have great stories of faith that we remember each year – Christmas, Easter, Pentecost… We celebrate yearly to remember God’s love and care for us, His children. The story of Esther and many others in the Bible remind us of God’s presence and provision. This day may we rejoice in the stories of faith and in our own personal experiences of God’s hand at work in our lives. Thanks be to God.

God, thank you for the reminders of your steadfast love in stories like Esther’s. Thank you for your hand at work in our lives as well. Thank you for being my God and our God. Amen.

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Eyes of Love

Reading: Mark 15: 21-40

Verses 37-38: “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”.

In Mark’s gospel we get a pretty abbreviated telling of the crucifixion and events surrounding it. It goes something like this: man carries cross, Jesus crucified, divided clothes, people mocked Him, got dark, Jesus cried out then died, curtain torn, some women watched. Mark’s story does have a few more words and details, but not a whole lot more.

It is odd to read through the crucifixion story a week before it actually happens. On Good Friday we will wrestle with it a whole lot more. Yet it is good to think of this day as we prepare to celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend. The children will parade around with palm branches waving, full of excitement, just like the first Palm Sunday crowd. The contrast with these two events is stark and sobering.

When we step back into our own lives, for most folks life is good. We have our routines and the little things that bring us joy. Then one day suffering comes our way. We cling to God and we get through it. After a time, we look back upon said event and we see it differently. We see how God loved and cared for us in the trial. We see what was pain with eyes of love and gratitude.

I think Jesus saw the cross this way – with eyes of love. He knew why He had come. It was to be this sacrifice. He also knew that resurrection was coming. He saw the other side of the suffering so He viewed this difficult and painful experience with eyes of love. “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last”. A simple end. Across town, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”. The thing that kept people separated from the Holy of Holies, where they thought God dwelled, was torn wide open. All will now be able to enter God’s presence directly and personally. I suppose that was another reason that Jesus saw this event with eyes of love too.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend, may we also keep an eye on both the crucifixion and the resurrection. As we do so, we see all of the last days of Jesus with eyes of love. May it be so.


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Hope and Promise

Reading: Luke 1: 26-38 and 46-55

Verse 28: “Greetings you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you!”

Do you remember the birth of your child or children?  It was an awesome experience!  Yes, there was great pain and perhaps it lasted too long, but at one point there was suddenly life when before there was none.  The baby emerges into the world and draws its first breath – life is born!  There is a sacredness to the moment that life is first brought into the world.  It is a holy moment when God is present.  It is something we will never forget.

When one steps away from the birth of our own children and we look at birth in general, it is still an amazing thing.  In each birth is the beginning of something new, therefore it is filled with excitement.  It is also filled with hope and dreaming.  Parents all over the world look at that newborn child and wonder about their son’s or daughter’s future and hope that it is blessed.

For Mary, the angel tells her she too is blessed.  The angel Gabriel says, “Greetings you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you!”  She will carry the One who will save the world from our sins and show us the way to enter into life eternal.  Likewise, her cousin Elizabeth carries a special baby.  She will give birth to John the Baptist, he who will prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.  For these two mothers, they know through the angel’s visit that children are something special.  This must ramp up their own sense of excitement and dreaming about the future.

Yet we know what Jesus and John will eventually experience.  Both of these precious babies will give their lives in obedience to God.  Both will suffer.  Both will die willingly for their God.  Both willingly die for the people they love – John for Jesus and Jesus for you and me.  We celebrate Jesus’ birth tomorrow night.  It is a birth orchestrated by God.  It is a holy birth.  It is a birth that brings hope and promise to all the world.  It is a birth that brings hope and promise to you and me.  It is a hope and promise not just for tomorrow night, but for forever.  Thanks be to God.  Amen!


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The Blood

Reading: Exodus 12: 1-11

Verse Seven: Take some of the blood and put it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses…

After many years of slavery in Egypt, God is about to free His chosen people.  He has heard their cries and has sent Moses to free them.  Nine plagues have hardened Pharaoh’s heart but the tenth will set them free.  It will become a touchstone moment for the Israelites.  This event is so important that God resets the calendar to zero to begin the next stage in the history of His people.  It is an event that continues to be celebrated yearly in Jewish homes.

God gives specific instructions for this night – select a lamb or goat without defect and care for it for four days in your home.  Slaughter it at twilight and roast the meat over a fire.  Do not boil it or eat it raw.  Eat or burn all of it.  Eat it with bitter herbs and unleavened bread.  Eat it in haste – with your cloak tucked in and sandals on your feet and staff in hand.  Be ready when Pharaoh relents.  And the blood.  “Take some of the blood and put it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses”.  Take the blood from the sacrifice and use it to mark yourself as mine, says God.  Celebrate the meal exactly this way.  Trust in God and the plan He has laid out.  Trust and follow the plan.  Know that God is with you and will go with you wherever you will go.  Every year Jews celebrate the Passover, remember God’s promises, and look forward to continuing to live in His promises.

The same imagery and message come on the cross.  Remember the blood of the Lamb.  Remember how Jesus bled for you and for me.  Celebrate the blood that washes away our sin and marks us as holy and pure in God’s sight.  And remember the promises: the cross is because I love you.  I will be with you always.  I will never leave you or forsake you.  I love you.  Thanks be to God for His everlasting promises of love and grace.  We are and always will be His.  Thanks be to God.


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Gather

Reading: Psalm 122

Psalm 122 is a song of ascent.  It is a song that would be sung as one traveled to Jerusalem to participate in one of the major religious festivals.  The song was sung to help the pilgrim enter the right frame of mind for worship.  Today, it would be like singing “Joy to the World” as you drive to church on Christmas Eve after working a ten hour shift at the mall.  The pilgrims who would sing the Psalm are reminding themselves of the joy of worshipping God in the temple.  They are also remembering the significance of the holiday.

Soon enough the airwaves, internet feeds, and television channels will be filled with all things Christmas.  Sale ads, incredible offers, silly shows, and Christmas specials will all remind us that the season of shopping is upon us.  And somewhere in there almost all people will remember, in spite of all our consumer culture says, that there is a “reason for the season”.  Come December 24 many will stream into sanctuaries all over the world, in small towns and big cities, to celebrate the birth of Christ.  They will be much like the pilgrims coming to the temple in our Psalm.

The high festivals and Christmas share much in common.  Both focus on what God has done for us.  Both draw a wonderful body of believers together to praise and worship God.  Both celebrate God’s love for us.  Both give a glimpse into the connection all people have with God.  Both bring people from all walks of life together in the name of the King.

May we joyously gather throughout this Advent season with one and all to truly worship the Lord our God.  It is a time to sincerely welcome all who seek to know the King.  With open hearts and minds, with the joy of the season all around, may we join as one this holy season.


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Oh What Love

Readings: Psalm 31: 14-15, Psalm 118:1, Isaiah 50:7, and Philippians 2:9

Today we celebrate both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday.  With palms we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  It is an event filled with joy yet tinged with sadness as well.  This happy parade marks the beginning of Holy Week.  The events of this week will contain a good deal of despair but in the end hope is triumphant.  The passion of Jesus for humanity reveals the depth of His love for us.

Today’s Psalm readings remind us of the truth and steadfastness of God.  In Psalm 31 we are reminded to trust God because He WILL deliver us.  Yes, there will be trials, but He will see us through them.  Psalm 118 reminds us of the why: because God is good and because His love endures forever.  When we choose to fully trust our lives to God, we discover that He will deliver us each and every time because of the depth of His love for us.

That depth of love allowed His own Son to be tried, tortured, and crucified because God knew that death would not have the last word.  God knew that the grave could not contain His Son.  God knew that love is stronger than death.  So sin was  heaped upon Jesus on that cross.  He bore them all as the perfect sacrifice.  Oh what depth of love the Father has for you and me!  Oh what love.


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In This Moment

Reading: Joshua 5: 9-12

For the Hebrew people, the time in the desert is over and they have crossed the Jordan River into the promised land.  One can almost hear the audible sigh that comes at the end of a long journey.  The people will no longer eat manna but will eat the produce of Canaan.  But first they acknowledge God and His provision.  As all things are in God’s time, they cross over and are right on time to celebrate the Passover – the feast to remember God’s saving hand in Egypt.  They connect to God in the moment instead of allowing it to pass by.  God has led them to this time and place.  They stop to worship Him.

This example of being in the moment with God is a great one for us.  We know that the glory of Easter morning us coming soon.  We know there will be stops in Holy Week where we acknowledge and live with the events and emotions that led to the cross and grave.  Each day between now and then is a day of preparation and looking within.  Let us not skip right past these days in a rush to arrive on the brink of Easter, but let us be present to each day.

Living in the moment each day of Lent could be either rewarding or trying, either joyful or painful.  Maybe we find ourselves experiencing God’s presence in our lives.  We have the taste of His blessings on our lips and we celebrate His presence and look forward to the next steps on our journey.  If so, may we be sure to stop and celebrate our thanksgivings for His presence.

Maybe we find ourselves in the period of testing or trial.  We feel not quite connected to God.  We cannot sense a first or maybe next step to take.  Maybe the unknown is keeping us from stepping forward.  In this moment may we seek God.  His desire is to connect to us and be on the journey together.  May we reach out in this moment and take hold of His hand.  May we walk this day with our Lord.