pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Oh Those Thorns!

Reading: 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10

Verse Nine: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”.

Paul opens chapter twelve with the revelation of heaven that he experienced. To keep him from being too conceited, he was “given a thorn in my flesh”. ‘Thorn’ implies that it was painful and hard to endure. The ‘thorn’ tormented Paul. And just like we would and do do in a heartbeat, Paul “pleaded with the Lord to take it away”. We do not like to endure pain or suffering or hardship. Neither did Paul.

God’s response is wonderful. In response to Paul’s pleading, God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. It is in moments of pain that we must turn to God to carry us through. It is in moments of weakness that we must rely on God for strength. It is in moments of heartache that we most need God’s grace and love. It has often been said that the view from the mountaintop is wonderful but we grow most in the valleys. Paul’s vision was his mountaintop and the thorn was his valley.

At times in our lives we will certainly suffer trials and hardships. I believe these occur two basic ways. One way, I believe the most common, is simply because life is naturally hard at times. We live in a world where people are imperfect, where disease and illness are part of the cycle of life, and where our free will does not always lead to good decisions. I also believe that we encounter a ‘thorn’ like Paul did at times. Sometimes the thorn comes to remind us that we have strayed from God. It is a poke back towards a right relationship with God. Sometimes the thorn is what it was for Paul – to remind us of our limited ability to control anything and of our absolute need for God. To me, this is Romans 8:28 lived out: “in all things God works for the good of those who love him”.

Thorns in life are hard. God’s words illicited this response from Paul: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”. May we also trust in, turn to, and rely on God at all times. It is there that Christ’s power shines in and from us. May we acknowledge our own weaknesses and, in doing so, may we reveal how strong we are in Christ. Amen.

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The “Why”

Reading: Mark 3: 20-30

Verse 20: “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him”.

The big crowd gathered to hear Jesus teach. Our passage tells us that it is, well, so crowded that Jesus cannot eat. There is no room! Mark writes, “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him”. They think that Jesus is not taking care of Himself and they go to have a family intervention. This has gone on long enough! Truth be told, at one time or another, we have found ourselves in this situation. That big project is due tomorrow and we forego sleep and maybe even food. Our mom or spouse or roommate warns us about how we are living. Or maybe we just sneak into the office on a day off to “catch up” – and we get the look we deserve. But sometimes, like Jesus did, we too get a look because of our faith.

Sometimes our choices of faith get us that look. I think that Jesus did not eat because it meant less teaching time. Look at all the people who are here to hear the Word. In a similar way, we encounter people without faith who do not understand us sacrificing something for our faith. They have questions like, “Why would you help pay her electric bill when you know the lights will get shut off next month too”? They wonder why we would spend a week of vacation going on a mission trip instead of going to some resort in the Caribbean. Some even wonder why in the world we would get up early on a Sunday to go sit on some hard pews when we could sleep in on the one day we could. Lots of people wonder why we do this or that for some guy named Jesus who lived two thousand years ago.

When the looks come, how do we react? How do we respond – whether it is family coming to ‘save’ us or whether it is a friend trying to talk some ‘sense’ into us or whether it is an acquaintance questioning the ‘crazy’ choices we are making? I think we begin with the story of how Jesus makes a difference in our life. When we share from the heart what Jesus has and is doing in our life, people begin to get a glimpse of faith and to sense what Jesus offers them as well. Yes, how we live our life tells our faith story. But our words are important too. They fill in the “how” with the “why”. Our words build understanding. So today, may we introduce people to Jesus with our actions and decisions and may we begin to welcome them into a personal relationship with our words. May it be so today.


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Very Nice Folks

Reading: Mark 2: 23-28

Verse 27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”.

The Pharisees lived by a lot of rules. The many, many rules had become their way of life and their religion. Following the rules had even obscured their common sense. They were rule followers instead of God followers. This concept is sometimes seen in our churches today.

Jesus’ disciples are walking along and they are hungry. They pick a few heads of grain to snack on. To us this does not seem to serious, but the Pharisees asks, “Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath”? You see, picking grain was work and work is illegal on the Sabbath. It does not matter if they were hungry. It wouldn’t even have mattered to the rule followers if the disciples were starving to death. It does not matter. They should have planned ahead – they know when the Sabbath is!

Jesus takes this in and responds thusly, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. He is saying to look beyond the rule so they can see the need. Look past being rule followers and become God followers. Have compassion. Show mercy. Extend love. But these are hard choices because this goes against the rules. Sometimes we see this in our churches too.

On Sunday mornings we are a pretty homogeneous bunch. On the last Sunday evening each month, we offer a free community meal. There is not a lot of homelessness in the community, but there is some poverty. Last night we had a struggling family come to the meal. Really nice folks – husband and wife and six young kids, plus Grandma in tow. Kids had big smiles on their faces and I had a nice chat with Mom and Dad. Very nice folks.

As I consider the Sabbath rules that caused so much tension in today’s passage, I wonder how things would go if this family showed up next Sunday morning at 9:00 for worship. Sometimes we can allow rules to get in the way of love and compassion and empathy. Sometimes we can be rule followers instead of Jesus followers. Sometimes it is hard. I hope these very nice folks come this Sunday morning. It is good for us to practice being Jesus followers. Sometimes what we practice becomes what we are. Very nice folks, hope to see you this Sunday morning!


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Victory in the Daily Battle

Reading: Psalm 1

Verses One and Two: “Blessed is the man who… delights in the Law of the Lord and on His Law meditates day and night”.

The Psalm represents a daily battle for us all. On one ‘side’ are those who “walk in the ways of sinners” and who “sit in the seat of mockers”. The psalmist writes that these are like chaff that the wind blows away. They will soon be no more as the “way of the wicked will perish”.

This choice is contrasted with the choice of the righteous. We read, “Blessed is the man who… delights in the Law of the Lord and on His Law meditates day and night”. The psalmist compares faith to a tree “planted by the water, whose leaf does not wither”, a tree that “yields its fruit in season”. The Psalm speaks of the righteous being able to stand in the judgment in the end and of God’s protection in the time here on earth, a time of prospering for the righteous.

When one considers option A and option B, it hardly seems like a choice. Do you want the rusty old Pinto or the shiny new Corvette? Hardly seems like a choice. Yet it is a daily battle. It is a daily battle not to fall to sin and not to choose the ways of the world. Satan has ways of making that rusty old car look pretty good to our earthly eyes. Satan can also trick us into giving up the keys to the Corvette, enticing us with something “better”, but it it just rust underneath.

The key to victory in our daily battle lies in our key verse for today. When we choose the Word as our foundation and we think on it day and night, then the things of God remain in the forefront of our minds. If we keep God’s Word fresh in our mind, it is easier to call on it when Satan tries to come calling. When we choose to be rooted in Christ, then Satan stands no chance. May we walk steadfastly in the way of the Lord today, enjoying His protection and love. Amen.


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Love at Work

Reading: Psalm 107: 17-22

Verses 19 and 20: “They cried to the Lord in their trouble… He sent forth the word and healed them; He rescued them from the grave”.

The psalmist recognizes the foolish behavior of some and identifies the consequences that came with poor choices. During our lives we have seen many people make poor decisions and we ourselves have made our share as well. After suffering because of their or our iniquities, there comes a point of admitting the error of our ways and turning to God for help. Verse 19 reads, “They cried to the Lord in their trouble”. It is a cry filled with both pain and hope. Pain because of the regret of ending up in such a place. Hope because we know that God is faithful and true.

Verse 20 bears this out: “He sent forth the word and healed them; He rescued them from the grave”. God responds to the cry for help and restores those in need. For the psalmist, the ‘word’ could come through the Spirit or it could come through the voice of the prophet. For the Christian, the word could also come from the Holy Spirit or it could come from the ‘Word’ – Jesus himself. The net result is the same: God brings healing and rescued from the grave. This could literally be the grave or it could represent being saving from eternal damnation.

Sometimes we observe this cycle of sin, suffering, conviction, repentance, crying out, healing/rescue and sometimes we experience it ourselves. In both cases, we are privy to seeing God’s hand at work over and over. Because of this we come to know God as steadfast and faithful. We come to know God’s love and mercy as unending and as a blessing for all. And we come to the place where we know God will never let us go. From here we begin to understand the depth of God’s love. It is a beautiful and wonderful thing. It is a love that we are called to share with others. May it be so today.


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Transform

Reading: Mark 9: 2-9

Verse Seven: “A voice from the cloud: ‘This is my son, whom I love. Listen to Him!'”

Today is known as Transfiguration Sunday. It is the day when Peter, James, and John get a glimpse into what the heavenly Jesus may look like. To be present in his moment is a powerful and life-changing moment for the inner three. In its own way it was unique and special. But it is just one of many such moments that forever changed Peter, James, and John.

We too will have these mountaintop, transforming moments. We will also have our share of life-changing moments in the valley. Those moments on the mountaintop are things such as the birth of a child or the day we accepted Jesus. Our valley moments are the times we lost someone or something dear to us or the day life radically changed. Each of these unique and special moments also work within us to transform us, to make us more and more like Christ.

In the transfiguration, Jesus is elevated to a better and more perfect version of His earthly self. As we experience our own God moments, we too can be transfigured. Through our unique and special moments with God – whether on the mountaintop or in the valley – we can be changed and shaped more into the image of who God created us to be. I say ‘can be’ because we do have a choice. In those valley moments we can choose to continue to cling to God and to walk through it with God. During those mountaintop moments we can give God all the glory and honor, bringing Him praise. Both are choices. One choice is God’s path and that choice elevates our faith journey and brings us closer to Jesus Christ.

In our faith journeys and in life may we always choose to walk with Jesus. We were created in God’s image, chosen since we were woven together in the womb, marked as a child of God in the waters of baptism. May we ever choose to live into our identity in Christ, allowing each God moment to transform us one experience at a time, bringing us ever closer to our Lord and Savior. Amen.


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Love Well

Reading: Galatians 4: 4-7

Verse Seven: “So you are no longer a slave, but a son [a daughter]; and since you are a son [a daughter], God has made you also an heir”.

When? “…when the time had fully come”.  It happened when the time was just right for what the world needed, a time that could only be known by God.  What?  “…God sent His Son”.  Only Jesus could do what needed done.  Only One sent from God’s side could take on flesh and dwell among us.  Why? “…to redeem those under the law”.  In offering himself as the perfect sacrifice, Jesus poured out His blood to redeem us from our sins that are made known through the law of God.  How? “…God sent the Spirit of the Son into our hearts”.  Because the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts, we are aware of when we sin and are led to repent and seek God’s forgiveness.

Jesus came once for all.  It is through the new covenant of His blood that all can be saved.  It is a covenant based on love that is without limits and without price.  It is a covenant that will wrap any and all who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in grace.  It seems an offer too good to be true, doesn’t it?

Some people feel this way.  Because of the choices they have made or because of the circumstances they found themselves in or because of the abuse or injustices they faced – some feel this offer isn’t really for them.  They feel unworthy or too far outside of God’s love and grace.  To these, may we be the love and light of Christ.  To those who feel outside of God’s love, may our witness to God’s love bring them closer to God’s love.  Sometimes it is easier to accept love from a fellow human being than it is from an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect God.  So may we be the ones to first offer love and grace to those who feel outside of His love.  In doing so, they too will one day come to see the live we offer as God’s love.  Then they will begin to live into verse seven: “So you are no longer a slave, but a son [a daughter]; and since you are a son [a daughter], God has made you also an heir”.  All need to experience God’s love and to know that they also belong to the family of God.  Christ came once for all.  May we live well today.