pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Peace Be with You

Reading: John 20: 19-31

Verse 19: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you'”!

The disciples are gathered together, behind locked doors, mourning the loss of Jesus. When one of a close group dies, this is common behavior. There is comfort in grieving together, in knowing you are not alone. Others just outside the circle also come and visit, offering support and presence and love to the group. But the group of disciples are also afraid. They are hiding behind closed doors because they fear what the Jews might do to them. Mary Magdalene has seen the risen Christ and Peter has seen the empty tomb. What all this now means must still feel a bit unsettling to them. Life will not be the same for the disciples.

At times of loss we too experience some of these same emotions and thoughts. While we may not fear other people, we may have a desire to hunker down and shut out the world. Sometimes there is a desire to visit familiar haunts or the scene of the tragedy. After a tragic loss in college I wanted to spend time at her house with her family. Then, after the funeral, I spent lots of time at the grave site. In those places I could feel a palpable desire to remain close. Even though I knew she was gone and life would never be the same, the desire was there. Being near brought a sense of comfort to my inner turmoil and unease over the future and my ‘now what?’ questions.

The disciples must have been feeling and thinking at least all of this when the risen Jesus appears among them. Jesus begins with some simple words: “Peace be with you”. Peace – that is the feeling needed in this situation. Peace – a sense of normalcy and an absence of worry and fear and doubt. Peace is surely what the disciples and followers of Jesus needed.

Jesus offers us the same thing. Whether the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or marriage, an unexpected move, a sudden illness, or many other possible scenarios, we can find ourselves driven to a place of sorrow or insecurity or discomfort. Into all that life can bring, Jesus desires to come and be present to us. There He will say, “Peace be with you”. When we need Jesus the most, He will be there most powerfully. In the hour of need, turn to Jesus and cry out to Him. He will bring you His peace.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for being my peace again and again. I can trust in you. Help me to be a vessel of your peace too – bringing your peace to those in need. Amen.

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Day by Day

Reading: John 12: 20-36

Verse 25: “The man who loves life will lose it, while he who hates his life in the world will keep it for eternal life”.

Our passage today opens with some Greek Jews in town for the celebration of the Passover. They would like to meet this Jesus guy. We can only assume that they have heard something about Him. We do not know if news of Jesus has spread to where they live or if they have heard stories once they arrived in Jerusalem or if they were there for the triumphal entry and are curious.

Many people today are like these Greeks. They have heard of Jesus or have crossed paths with someone who follows Jesus and they’ve become curious. But often there is something else driving them to want to know more. Sometimes life takes a turn or twist and they are searching for understanding or peace or comfort or strength or… Sometimes one just arrives at a point where they realize that there must be more than “this”. For many other reasons, folks come looking for Jesus.

Jesus replies by saying that a seed must die in order to produce more seeds. This is a great analogy. If we remain centered on or just focused on ourselves, then we will remain just one seed. But if we are willing to surrender self, then we can live for much more. In verse 25 Jesus says, “The man who loves life will lose it, while he who hates his life in the world will keep it for eternal life”. When we hold onto our earthly titles and possessions, then we love our life. When we do not cling to the things of this world then we focus in on eternal things and we find eternal life.

Jesus goes on to equate the idea if dying to self with serving and following Jesus. We must follow Jesus’example if we are to be a Christian, a disciple, a follower. Jesus’ example centered first on loving God with all of our being and, second, on loving others as He first loved us. Love was at the core of who Jesus was and it guided all of His decisions, words, and actions. The first question Jesus asked was: how can I love God fully today? The second was like it: how can I fully love all that I encounter today? Great questions to live by. May we do so this day and every day.

Prayer: Loving God, teach me to love as you love. You are awesome and wonderful and loving and forgiving. You are easy to love. This day and every day, may that love grow. As I live out each day though, my struggle is in loving all I meet. Work on that in me, O God. Help me to die within to those things that limit my capacity and ability to love others as you love them. Day by day, make me more like Jesus. Amen.


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Light

Reading: Psalm 36: 5-10

Verses 7 and 9: “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings… in your light we see light”.

Where I live and in many parts of the world we are about half way through the season of darkness that comes every winter. The darkness builds to December 21 and then slowly recedes. We often go to work in the dark and come home from work in the dark. The dark affects us all – rich and poor, black and white, male and female. We long for more light.

We experience darkness in other ways too. Some of the time it is spiritual – sin has gotten ahold of us or we have become lazy in our spiritual disciplines and we feel as if the source of light and love in our lives is distant. Sometimes it is caused by life – the loss of a loved one puts us in a funk or illness runs us down and we pull into ourselves. In all these cases, we sense the darkness and we long for light.

The psalmist reminds us where to turn. He writes, “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings”. Because we all experience seasons of darkness, both spiritually and physically, we all have times when we need the refuge found in God. It is offered to all – high and low, rich and poor, black and white, male and female. We are all God’s children and God loves us all deeply. God desires to be our refuge and more. God wants to be our peace, our hope, our strength, our comfort, our all.

When we reach out to God our darkness fades. In our Psalm today we also read, “in your light we see light”. God relieves our darkness with His light. God’s light and love shines into our dark places. God’s light lifts us up and we begin to be the light, sharing the light with others. May we call and wait upon the source of light every day. May we then be filled by the light so that we can be the light for those struggling with or living in darkness. May it be so. Amen!

Prayer: Lord of light, may I walk in the light. You are the light. Draw me in as a moth to a flame. Draw me in with your love. May the light in me shine out, lighting the way for others. Amen.


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Blessings That Cannot Be Measured

Reading: Ephesians 3: 5-12

Verse 8: “This grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ”.

Today’s passage centers on Paul’s role to preach the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Throughout his ministry, Jesus mainly taught and healed amongst the Jews. Jesus did occasionally encounter and minister to a non-Jew or Gentile. The earliest church struggled with the idea of going out beyond Israel with the good news. Soon enough though it was revealed to the church leaders – especially Peter and Paul – that the good news was for all people. Paul writes, “through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel”. The circle of God’s love was expanded to include the entire world. All people everywhere could “share together in the promise in Jesus Christ”.

In verse 7 Paul acknowledges that he became a servant of the gospel through the gift of God’s grace. On that Damascus road Paul met the resurrected Jesus and was changed in an instant. Paul left his hatred of Jesus and the persecution of Christians behind him and allowed Jesus to make him into a new creation – an apostle to the Gentiles. He writes, “This grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ”. In another translation unsearchable is rendered “boundless riches”. Better yet, in the CEV translation it reads, “blessings that cannot be measured”. This is what faith in Jesus brings us. Salvation, mercy, grace, hope, love, peace, contentment, assurance, comfort, presence… – a blessing that cannot be measured.

Later in Ephesians 3 Paul goes on to pray that the Ephesians may “grasp how long and wide and high and deep is the love of Christ”. It was a love that welcomed Paul into faith in Jesus Christ. It is a love that led to a 180° turn in Paul. It is a love that can overcome any sin, any barrier, and circumstance. Who do you know that needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ? Share it with them today!

Prayer: Dear God, when I encounter one who needs to know your Son, give me the words to clearly communicate the good news to them. Help me to also search my own heart so that I can come to know you more. Amen.


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Clothe Yourselves

Reading: Colossians 3: 12-14

Verse 12: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”.

In these quiet and slow days between Christmas and New Years, we can either drift along or we can be anxious about the year to come. In both cases it can be a time when we lose sight of the birth of Jesus that we just celebrated. Today’s passage is a good connection back to the birth story.

Coming into the world as a helpless infant leaves one very vulnerable and dependent on others. When Jesus Christ entered the world, Mary took Him into her arms and wrapped Him securely in swaddling clothes. This replicates the feeling and safety of the womb, bringing comfort to the baby. Mary provided all the Jesus needed to survive and then to thrive. We find a parallel to this in today’s reading.

In Colossians, Paul encourages us to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”. We are to wrap ourselves in these qualities so that we can best survive and thrive in the world. To help us understand what it looks like to live out these five qualities we need look no further than Jesus. Every day He modeled these qualities. It was how God designed us to live. When we follow Jesus and emulate the model He set, then we are living as God desires.

Paul then goes on to encourage us to “bear with one another” and to “forgive as the Lord forgave you”. These two practices acknowledge our imperfections and limitations. We are what we are – the imperfect striving after the perfect. So Paul encourages us to show one another grace and mercy. Our passage ends with Paul’s directive to “put on love” as the thing that covers all of these other qualities and in fact “binds them all together”. Like the swaddling clothes of baby Jesus, when we allow love to be our primary quality, when we allow love to cover all we say and do, then we find comfort, assurance, courage, and strength to live as His witness in the world.

As we go forth into the day ahead, may we be compassionate and kind, gentle and humble, patient and forgiving. And over and before all of these, may we love just as Jesus Christ first loved us. In doing so, we share Jesus with the world.

Prayer: God, in love may I be all these things to those I meet today, bearing witness to your Son, my hope and the hope of the world. Amen.


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All the Time

Reading: Psalm 34:8

Verse 8: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him”.

The pastor or leader calls out, “God is good”! The congregation or group responds with, “All the time”! The one then calls out, “And all the time…” followed by the people’s response: “God is good”! This pattern is usually repeated two or more times, building each time. It is a great reminder of what our passage today is all about.

Our experiences in life teach us this truth if we are walking in faith. Even though the hurt is great in times of loss, when we turn to God we find strength and comfort and peace. God is good to us in our suffering. As we experience other trials, whether big or small, and when we look to God, when we pray to God, when we trust in God, then we again experience that God is good. If we are faithful and we turn to God in our times of need, we know the truth of this verse: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him”.

In communion we literally experience this verse. As the body of Christ, whether two or three are gathered or if it is the whole congregation, when we taste the bread and the juice or wine, we are physically reminded of how good the Lord was and is. When we “do so in remembrance of Jesus” we are blessed spiritually by His presence too as we confess and are made new.

We can also experience this in small but powerful ways. Earlier this week I volunteered in the concession stand at some local basketball games. Towards the end of the night, a young man that I had helped with his math the week before came up to the window with his dad. When he recognized me, he gave me the biggest smile and said hello. This small thing made my day and again reminded me of how good God really is. All the time, God is good!

O God, you are indeed so good. Thank you, Lord! In you I take my refuge time after time. You never fail me. You bless me with your presence and you walk with me. In the bright, sunny, good days sometimes I see you. Help me to see you always. Open my eyes to see you in the days of joy and plenty. You are good, O Lord. Thank you so much. Amen.


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Present

Reading: Job 23: 1-9 & 16-17

Verses 16-17: “God has made my heart faint… yet I am not silenced by the darkness”.

Today’s passage is probably a familiar scene to all of us. Some have yet to experience this to the extent that Job has experienced it, but for all people life will have moments of pain and hardship.

Job lived in a time we have a hard time relating to. The common understanding or answer to the “Why?” question was because one had sinned. In ancient Judaism, hardship, disease, illness – all were the consequences of sin. Job knew in his heart of hearts that he was right before God. And he accepted what had happened to him without blaming God and without seeking a reversal of the circumstances. He just wants an audience with God. In verse 7 Job says, “There an upright man could present his case before Him”. He just wants the suffering to end. He just wants to return to a relationship with his God.

Job’s friends have tried to convince Job of why he is suffering. They have encouraged Job to search within to find that sin number in his life that is obviously causing all the suffering. In our time, we do not see pain and suffering as God punishing us for our sins. This does not square with our understanding of God being loving and compassionate and with the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. Job’s friends also offer pithy sayings to try and help Job feel better. Unfortunately, at times we too can do this. “Everything happens for a reason” and other similar statements only demonstrate our lack of theological understanding. They do not bring comfort and peace. They only lead to negative emotions and more questions. In that awkward space we feel like we must talk, that we must say things. We don’t have to. A hug and a simple “I love you”, followed by just being present, sitting there in the hurt and pain, is sufficient.

In our passage Job says, “God has made my heart faint… yet I am not silenced by the darkness”. He is tired. He is feeling broken. Yet he will not be silenced. He wants to express his anger, his questions, his laments. He does not want answers or attempts at explanations. He just wants to give voice to what is inside of him. He needs his friends to listen and to be compassionate. He needs them to just be present with him in his pain and suffering. To do so is a great demonstration of love. When we find ourselves in this situation with a friend or loved one, may we simply be present in the pain and grief, listening, loving, being present.

Lord, it is hard to simply be a presence in the midst of pain and suffering. Strengthen me to simply be love and to show compassion. If words need said, may your Spirit speak your words through me. Amen.