pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The End?

Reading: John 11: 1-27

Verse 17: “On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days”.

Each time I read this passage from John 11, I have the same initial reactions. Why didn’t Jesus heal Lazarus from afar? This is clearly within his options as Jesus has done this before for another who was ill (John 4). Adding depth to the question is the relationship that Jesus enjoyed with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus – they were good friends. If he were to heal anyone from afar, wouldn’t it be a good friend? Jesus does “heal” Lazarus after all. But that is for tomorrow’s part of the story.

Today’s passage largely centers around the idea of time. Here we see Jesus operating in one aspect of time while the disciples, Mary and Martha, and all those mourning operate in another aspect of time. Once in a while we step into Jesus’ time, but most often we live like the rest of the people in the passage. Mary and Martha send out the call for their good friend, Jesus, to come heal their brother Lazarus. They want Jesus to come now. They think Jesus needs to come now. The disciples probably think Jesus should leave now. Jesus stays two more days before beginning the journey to Bethany.

We often want things now too. We, as a general rule, do not like to wait. We all want COVID-19 to be over last week, right? We have all wanted the new job, the wedding or due date, the first day of college… to be here now. If we are ill or suffering, we want God to intervene now. We are also familiar with being on the other of the spectrum. If Lazarus were our brother, we would want death to come never. Yet it does come. In Martha’s words we hear words we have spoken or at least thought: “Lord, if you had been here…”

When Jesus arrives we learn that Lazarus has been dead for four days. The time for healing has surely passed. At least in Mary and Martha’s minds, in the disciples’ minds, in all the mourner’s minds, even in our minds – unless you know the end of the story. Jesus does. He knows the end of our story too. He reveals it in verses 25 and 26: “I am the resurrection and the life… whoever lives and believes in me will never die”. Jesus is not just talking of our earthly time. He is also speaking of unbounded time – of God’s time. Believing in Jesus brings true life to this side of time. But he is also saying that our last breath here is only the end of our earthly time and life. The moment of death is just the beginning of our eternal life with God. This is the resurrection that all who believe cling to. It shatters our limited understanding of time. Thanks be to God for this “ending” to our story.

Prayer: Father of all, thank you for your eternal claim on me and upon all who call your Son our Lord and Savior. It brings hope in today and on the hardest of days. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Sheep of His Pasture

Reading: Psalm 95

Verse 7: “He is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care”.

The opening five verses of Psalm 95 are a song of praise. The psalmist encourages us to sing with joy to the rock of our salvation and to come before him with thanksgiving. The words recognize the presence of the King of Kings in all of creation. In verse six there is an invitation to kneel and worship the Lord our maker. There are many days when we are right here with the psalmist, praising God joyfully.

But all days are not sunny and bright. All days are not filled with joy and praise. It is on those days and in those seasons that we must remember our foundation, our rock. The God who created the whole universe is the God who also created you and me. This God does not change. All of this world, including all of humanity, was created by a loving God to be good. Some days and in some situations that can be hard to remember. Sometimes situations and sometimes people make it hard to remember our foundation, our rock. Yet we are called to remember. We are ever wooed by the Holy Spirit to draw close to God, to stand upon the Lord our salvation.

In verse seven we read, “He is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care”. Yes, God is our God. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture, kept safe, protected, cared for by our good shepherd. Celebrate that. Cling to that. Shout out a song of praise. Whisper a desperate prayer. He is our God. Always. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so hard to see your children hurting. Bring them strength, remind them of your deep and abiding love for them, place their feet back upon the rock. Help me to remind them too of your love. May my words, actions, and prayers draw back into your pasture the sheep that are hurting and the sheep that have gone astray. May it be so. Amen.


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Light in the Darkness

Reading: Isaiah 9: 1-2

Verse 1: “In the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles”.

We have all experienced times of isolation and darkness. These can be caused by an illness. For example, when the flu or other sickness drags on and on, we reach a point that feels like we’ve been sick forever. Isolation or darkness can also be caused by mother nature. A fierce winter snowstorm can leave us stuck in the house for a number of days. Soon enough we begin to feel closed in upon and cut off from the rest of the world. In these and other similar experiences, we long to be reconnected with others, to be freed from that which binds us. In this sense we can relate to Zebulun and Naphtali, the two lands that Isaiah writes to in our passage today.

These two tribes were conquered and have been living under a foreign power’s oppression for many years. It has been so long that they feel like this is just life. Their time of isolation and darkness has gone on for generations. Many of the people have given up hope for a different tomorrow, slowly coming to accept this situation as the new normal. Isaiah indicates that this situation was God’s way of humbling these two tribes. It is into this situation that Isaiah brings today’s words of hope.

The passage opens with this declaration: “there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress”. The oppression will not be forever. Isaiah continues with words of hope, adding, “in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles”. The time is not right now but it is coming. God has a plan to rescue and restore Zebulun and Naphtali. And not only these two tribes but the Gentiles as well. In verse two Isaiah goes on to write, “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light”. In the future the light will dawn. They are, in fact, a long way from the end of the tunnel – 700 years. But there is hope now because there is light at the end of the tunnel.

We too can claim this hope and promise as well as helping others claim it as well. Isaiah speaks of a God who will not allow suffering to be endless. According to God’s plan, all things will be made new. In the interim, we are promised life abundant. We will suffer and feel isolation and darkness at times. This is unavoidable in our earthly life. But the light is close. God’s love never fails. The Spirit’s presence is always with us – we are never alone. We can lean into God, trusting in his plans, holding to the light and love of Jesus. We know the great light. May we cling to Jesus every day. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my strength and my shield, my light and my hope. In all times, but especially in the hard times, remind me over and over of your love and care. Help me to be these things to people walking in isolation and darkness, that they might get a glimpse of you. Amen.


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Know Jesus Well

Reading: Luke 21: 5-8

Verse 8: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he'”.

Jesus knows that the end of his time on earth is drawing near. A large part of his ministry has been preparing the disciples to be ready and to be able to carry on the work. Jesus knows that the road will not always be easy. Yes, there will be times when God and the Spirit will do amazing things and the disciples will be filled with awe and wonder. But there will also be persecution and trial and even death. These will be some of the things that will test their faith.

The passage today opens with Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple. Some there that day will surely witness this and will recall Jesus’ words. According to Jewish understanding, God resides in the temple. The disciples equate the destruction of the temple to the end of the world as they know it. But it will not be so. Because he knows this, Jesus goes on to give them a warning.

In verse eight he says, “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he'”. Jesus knows that much will unfold before the new heaven and earth are established. In the interim Jesus also knows that the deceivers pose one of the greatest threats to the disciples and to the early church. The gospel itself is a pretty simple message. The call to follow Jesus is fairly easy to understand. But because we live in a world with many other philosophies and religions and in a world where Satan is at work, being a disciple is challenging. Those that Jesus is speaking to face these same challenges. Jesus tells them, “Do not follow them”. The disciples know Jesus well. If they remain connected to Jesus and to his teachings and example, then they will easily see the deceptions. The same is true for us.

If we will invest in our faith and in our relationship with Jesus Christ, we will know him well. If we are committed to knowing and living out our calling, we will be strong in the faith. Then we too will discern false teaching and will reject the false prophets and the deceivers. May we ever cling to Jesus, the good news, and the example that he lived out for us to follow.

Prayer: Father God, draw me in more and more. Deepen my connection to you. Amidst the storms and trials, may I turn to you alone. Amen.


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Holy and Blameless

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 3: 9-13

Verse 13: “May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be holy and blameless… when our Lord Jesus comes”.

In our passage today, Paul is writing to a persecuted church. The Christians suffered for their belief in Jesus Christ. Paul is writing to encourage them to keep the faith. In a world that is often attacking their faith, it must have been hard to always be light and love to the world.

In our country, persecution is not widespread. I do not fear going to church tomorrow nor do I try and keep my identity as a pastor secret. Even so, even in America, at times Christians do face forms of persecution and do suffer for their faith. This is part of the times in which we live. We are now living in between the fall of man and the restoration of all things when Jesus returns in final victory. As followers of Jesus we do have the model that Jesus himself lived out. He gave us the example of how to live a life obedient to God regardless of the cost.

The Christians that Paul was writing to also relied on the witness and teaching of Jesus. They also turned to the Word as well. The Thessalonicans kept the faith because they knew the promises and trusted them. Through faith they lived with God’s love, grace, mercy, and hope. Through faith they were blessed with God’s presence, strength, comfort, and assurances. They daily lived out verse 13: “May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be holy and blameless… when our Lord Jesus comes”.

When our lives become stressed and the voices of discord and unrest and questioning and even persecution arise, may we too remember and cling to the promises. When suffering comes our way because of our faith, may we rejoice as we welcome God’s communion with us, walking by our side. In the persecution and suffering, in the trial, may we fully rely on God, walking holy and blameless in His sight – not on our own but fully in God’s power and might.

Prayer: Lord – thank you for your abiding presence in the good and in the bad. You are always near. Thank you Lord. Thank you. Amen.


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Hope

Reading: Isaiah 40: 27-31

Verses 29 and 31: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength”.

Our section today opens with the people complaining that God is disregarding their cause. The people feel hidden from God. At times, we find ourselves here, don’t we? We too can feel apart from God or as if God does not care about what is happening in our life. We think that if God loved and cared for us, that He would do something – right?

To us and to the Israelites, Isaiah says, “Have you not heard? Have you not seen”? Isaiah is saying, with all of your experience with God and with all you’ve read and heard about God, how can you say this about God? How can you question? This line of thought, this logic, makes sense to us in the good times of life. Yes, God has been there for us over and over. But when we have been in the trial for a while, the illogical rises up. We begin to doubt, we begin to feel abandoned, we begin to question. It is then that we must remember the words of Isaiah: “The Lord is the everlasting God”. Our God is a forever God, a God that never grows tired or weary.

Isaiah then adds some wonderful reminders about how God loves and cares for each of us. Isaiah writes, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength”. When we are weary, God wants to give us strength. When we are weak, God wants to give us power. But we also have a part. When our hope rests fully on God, we will be renewed. Sometimes it is hard to hold onto and to live into this hope. Sometimes life brings a lot at us. No matter what, though, when we turn to God in hope, He will lift us up. May we ever cling to our hope, to the Lord our God.


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In Desert Seasons

Reading: Psalm 63:1-8

King David finds himself in a desert season.  During our lives, we will find ourselves in just such a place as well.  These times of trial and struggle will come and go; perhaps now is just such a season.  David’s beautiful words give us encouragement and advice for when we find ourselves in a desert season.

David begins by expressing the thirst he feels in the desert.  In the times we find ourselves in a trial, we too must admit our need for God and then we must seek His guidance and presence in our lives.  To reinforce this, David recalls how he saw God’s power and glory in the sanctuary.  To remember how God has always been there in our times of need reassures us that He will be there again.

Next, David does something that may seem odd when one is in a desert place – he praises God.  In verse three he writes, “Because your love is better than life”.  It is such a powerful and moving statement.  We come to God in praise because of His gift and promise of eternal life.  We know that no matter what this life brings, our ticket to eternal life in glory has already been bought.  There is no better reason to praise!

Lastly, David ends with “my soul clings to You”.  Although it can sometimes be hard to sense God’s presence in the midst of a trial, we must nonetheless cling to God.  We are promised that His love never fails and that He has only good plans for us.  In the midst of it all, may we cling to Him knowing that it is Hi slight at the end of the tunnel and that it is really His arms alone that will carry us through.