pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Good Friday

Reading: John 18:1 to John 19:42

Verse 19:30: “Jesus said, ‘It is finished’. With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit”.

Today’s reading, known as the passion of the Christ, is a hard read. It is the story of how a man was unjustly accused, was tried for crimes that did not happen, was beaten, whipped, and mocked, and was put to death by being nailed to a cross. Today, as we read this story and as we participate in Good Friday services tonight, we are drawn into the circle. To me it is much like being in a hospital or hospice room as a person peacefully draws their last breath and exits this life.

Today we join those who have not turned away. We join who walk with Jesus through this horrendous experience. We join those who have seen it all unfold and now wait for the inevitable. After caring for His mother’s well-being, Jesus gets a sip of wine vinegar and then simply says, “It is finished”. With that, John reports, “He bowed His head and gave up His spirit”. Jesus takes a peaceful exit from this life.

Today we join Jesus’ mother, John, Mary Magdalene, and a few others. As Jesus completes what He came to do, the lifeless body hangs on the cross. As those there did, we certainly join them in prayer and meditation. As those there undoubtedlyly felt, we too sit with our grief and pain today. And as I am sure they did, we also linger. We remain present and allow all the emotions and thoughts to come and go.

It is Good Friday. It is a day to be present with Jesus. May your time with Him bless you today. Amen.

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Preach

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-25

Verse 23: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”.

Paul is writing of Jesus’ crucifixion. As Christians we see Jesus’ obedience and submission to the cross as the supreme sign of love. Jesus walked the path to the cross out of love for God and for us. He suffered and died so that we can experience the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. This is the lens through which Christians see the crucifixion.

The Jews and Gentiles of Jesus’ day, however, see the crucifixion much differently. The Romans used crucifixions as deterrents. The torture and pain and humiliation were intentional reminders that told all who witnessed a crucifixion that they did not want to do whatever that person did. The cross came to represent guilt, shame, weakness, and death. It is in this context that verse 23 makes perfect sense: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”. Of course the idea of the Messiah going to the cross is a stumbling block and is foolishness.

Our sad reality is that it remains so for people today. Some think that there had to be another way – a better or more humane way to achieve the same end. Some stumble over how a loving father could allow their son to suffer this way. Some do not see or cannot take in the incomprehensible and awesome love that is revealed in this act. The depth of love is too much. For some, this is the stumbling block. Others get the love but wonder how they could ever be worthy of a relationship with a God who loves this much and is this good.

What is the proper response to all of this for a Christian? It is the same as it was for Paul: we preach Christ crucified. Through our witness and through how we live out God’s love, we preach the transformative and all-encompassing love of God in Jesus Christ. We preach that Christ died once for all and we are clear that all means all. We preach about how Jesus has and continues to transform us over and over. We preach about those mercies that come new every morning and about how they never stop coming because His love is never-ending too. As we preach the good news, we help others past their stumbling blocks and we dispell the foolishness so that they too can enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior. May it be so. Amen.


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Thoughts

Reading: Mark 8: 31-34

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Today’s text begins with Jesus teaching the disciples about the end of His time with them. This scene reminds me of visits to hospice or the hospital with people who are assuredly ready to come face to face with their creator. These thoughts bring peace and strength to their loved ones. They are positively focused on what Peter is struggling with. But not everyone is ready to say goodbye. Sometimes we do not want to let people go. Selfishly we want more time, even if just a day or two. This is where the very human Peter is coming from. His time with Jesus has radically changed his life and he does not want to even begin to think about it ending.

This thought is what led Peter to rebuke Jesus. The thought focused inward and was selfish. Jesus’ response is sharp and to the point: focus your mind on the things of God! It is where all of our thoughts should begin. A few years ago the WWJD wristbands and t-shirts led us to first think of Jesus in all situations. This is essentially the point of today’s passage. When Jesus goes on to say, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”, He is really saying to do as He does. Notice that Jesus’ statement begins with our thoughts as well. Denying self is an action we take within.

This is a wonderful passage for the season of Lent. This season is a time to look inward and to lay aside all that keeps our focus off of our relationship with Jesus. The things that distract us or lure us away or get between us and Jesus all begin with our thoughts. It can be something that is bright and shiny that we come to long for or it can be the person who so easily gets under our skin, leading us to being judgemental or critical. But if we first keep our thoughts focused on the ‘things of God’ and what pleases Him, then we will indeed take up our cross daily as we follow Jesus. Before we do or say anything, may our thoughts be holy and pleasing in God’s sight. 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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Come and Follow

Reading: Matthew 16: 21-28

Verse 24: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Jesus was quite the radical in His day.  He called a group of men to be His disciples not from within the elite of the pre-Rabbi schools but out of ordinary life.  He did not spend all of His time in the temple but was out in the towns and villages eating and teaching the sinners and the lost.  Jesus did not simply read the scriptures and proclaim the word, but He also rolled up His sleeves and served others as a mean to show them God’s love.  He lived this way so that we would know what it looked like to live as a Christian.

In today’s passage we hear these words: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.  The first step is to deny self.  Society teaches us to first look out for #1, but Jesus says to put self last.  Jesus loved God with all He was and then next loved all of His neighbors more than He loved Himself.  He first sought to serve God and neighbor and only then did He consider His own needs.  In doing so, Jesus met people’s basic needs, sought equality for all, showed love and forgiveness and compassion, and lived a humble and simple life.

The next part involves taking up our cross.  On the cross of Calvary, Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice.  When Jesus calls us to take up our cross, He is asking us to die to self, to be willing to live with less so that others may have some, and to be a servant to all.

And then He says, “Follow me”.  Jesus calls us to do what He did, to follow His example.  Get out there into the ordinary of life – get outside the walls of the temple and our homes and our comfort zones.  Spend time with the lost – the sinners and the atheists and the non-believers.  Eat with them, talk with them, share Jesus with them.  Find ways to serve others, to meet people’s basic needs, to lift them up, and to bring them hope and justice.  In all this, we follow the One who lived God’s love out loud.  May we come and follow, showing the light and love of Christ to all for the glory of God.


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All for Jesus

Reading: Matthew 10: 24-39

Verse 30: Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Couched within this difficult passage are words of love and care.  Jesus has commissioned the twelve to go out in the beginning of Matthew 10 and now He is preparing them.  Jesus is letting them know that it will challenge them but also encouraging them to “proclaim for the roofs” what is whispered in their ears.  We too will be led by the Holy Spirit when we are willing to go out and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the world.  The power and presence of the Holy Spirit will whisper in our ear and give us the words we need to share.

In the middle section of our passage, Jesus emphasizes “do not fear” three times.  He is building them up for service.  He is assuring them that God deeply values them.  Jesus tells them, “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered”.  He is saying God knows them intimately.  God knows us in the same way.  He knows us so well that the small detail of the number of hairs on our head is precisely known by God.  Jesus notes that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing.  So how much more are we in God’s eyes.  He says, do not worry, God has us.

The passage ends with the call to take up the cross.  For those disciples,who have literally seen people take up a cross on the way to their death, this call would have real meaning.  Jesus is asking them to be prepared to give their all.  Knowing what Jesus did on the cross, we too know what He asks of us.  Jesus is asking for our all.  The cost of discipleship can be high today as well.  To walk as Jesus walked, to be like the teacher, is hard.  But with God’s love and care and with the presence of the Holy Spirit, the difficult is made possible.  We are loved by a God who knows us intimately.  With our God all is possible.  As we go forth, being light and love, we go with God and the Spirit, empowered to transform the world.


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He Died for Us

Reading: Romans 5: 6-8

Verse Six: You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

To me, today’s three verses speak to the depth of God’s love for all of humanity.  The key words are ‘love’ and ‘all’.  It is an amazing, mighty, almost unfathomable love that would send His Son, knowing He would die a painful death.  And speaking of unfathomable – Jesus died for sinners, for you and me, plus all those who hate God and those who deny God and those who refuse to acknowledge God’s existence…  To die for the sinners we all are is one thing.  To die for the haters, the atheists, the non-believers… is a whole other level of ‘all’.

Verse six reads, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly”.  In His infinite wisdom, God initiated His plan to save us at ‘just the right time’.  God’s hand is often at work in the world.  Sometimes it happens in big ways, like this, and at other times God’s hand is at work in smaller ways, like the time that person said that thing to you at that time in your life.  There is another truth in this verse.  We are powerless.  Before the cross humanity was trapped in our sin and held captive by death.  But through the cross we find forgiveness and hope.  As Christ conquered sin and death, He opened the way for us too.  Through a personal relationship with Jesus we can claim salvation and eternal life.

In the next two verses, Paul returns to the idea of just who Christ died for.  He notes that maybe some would die for a good man.  I think some are even willing to die for a good cause.  But no one would be willing to die for an enemy or for a cause they do not believe in.  Jesus died for both.  “While we were sinners” – separated from God – He died for us.  That’s amazing, but it goes farther.  Jesus knew we would continue to sin.  He knew His death would not end sinning.  But He died anyway.  We, by our imperfect nature, are prone to sin.  And Jesus died for each and every one of us anyway.  Thanks be to God.