pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Authority

Reading: Matthew 28: 16-20

Verse 18: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”.

Jesus begins his final words reminding the disciples that he has authority over all things – both in heaven and on earth. He has demonstrated this authority. In walking on the water and with the calming of the storm he demonstrated authority over nature. By raising Lazarus and others and by walking out of the tomb Jesus demonstrated authority over life and death. Through many healings he showed power over disease and illness. In many encounters Jesus revealed the authority to restore brokenness and to redeem sinners. Jesus has authority over all things.

Authority is a powerful thing. As we have talked and read about this week, humanity can struggle with properly exercising our authority over the created world. As we have seen once again, authority can be abused. Using one’s title and position of authority to kneel upon a man’s neck until life has ebbed out of his body is clearly a case of extreme abuse of authority. In the MeToo movement we also witnessed what unchecked abuses of authority can lead to. There is no place for any of these types of abuse of authority.

How did Jesus use and define his authority? As one considers Jesus’ ministry, his authority was used to bring healing, restoration, wholeness, and true life to people. Jesus always sought to connect people to God and to one another in the community of faith. That is the task he sets the disciples to in our passage today. Jesus defined his authority as being total – over all things. In his ministry he clearly demonstrated the scope of his claim. His authority applied to all things and to all people. There was never anyone Jesus turned away from, never anyone he refused to minister to.

In the call to make disciples of all nations, may we claim and employ the authority that Jesus gives us. Jesus holds out the authority to love as he loved, to serve as he served, to minister as he ministered – without conditions, without barriers, without strings attached. Jesus’ authority allows us to walk as his disciples, following his example. May we faithfully love God and neighbor just as Jesus did this day and every day.

Prayer: Loving God, may I fully claim the authority you give me to love and serve as Jesus did. May all I do and say and think reflect you within my heart and to all I meet each day. Amen.


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Night Light, Table Lamp, or Ceiling Fixture?

Reading: 2nd Peter 1: 16-21

Verse 19: “Pay attention to it… to a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart”.

Is the light of Christ like a night light plugged into the receptacle or is it like the table lamp in the corner or is it like the fixture in the center of the ceiling? It resembles none of these if the power is out or if the switch is “off”. To really answer the question one must assume that the power is on and the light is operational. Assuming both to be true, how would you answer the question? Night light, table lamp, or ceiling fixture?

Light is a necessity today. There is much darkness in our world. Satan seems to often be winning the overall battle. Wars and civil unrest rage, disease and plague-like locusts creep across the earth, modern politics seems to lean more and more into fragmentation, the wealth gap continues to widen in our society. As a whole we seem to have lost the gift of civil discourse and the art of compromise. In our culture the opinion or belief of the individual has often triumphed over the ideal of the common good and the dream of common ground. While we as individuals cannot address or affect all of this darkness, we certainly can address and affect some of it. Is the light of Christ within you shining into those places of darkness within your sphere of influence? Would others say your light is shining like a night light, table lamp, or ceiling fixture? Would they question if the power is even on?

Do not just read on. Ponder these two questions. Not yet. Ponder, wrestle, look deep. Read on when you’re ready.

We can make a difference in our world only when Christ is making a difference in our lives. Jesus Christ is the power, the juice that gives us light. Peter writes, “Pay attention to it… to a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart”. Dig deep into Jesus Christ. Understand his message of love and grace and mercy. Allow him to fill you up. Accept no other as your source of light and love. Be a person filled with Jesus so that his light shines like the sun in and through you. Then look at your world around you and go be the light to those living in darkness.

Prayer: Lord God, help me today to shed your light and love abroad in the places I inhabit. May all I do and say and think be ways to share the light and love of Jesus Christ with others. Amen.


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By Our Love

Reading: Isaiah 63: 7-9

Verse 8: “He said, ‘Surely they are my people’… so he became their Savior”.

Today’s few verses begin by reminding us of God’s kindness and of the many good things God has done for Israel “according to his compassion”. God has been and will always be a God of kindness and compassion. Verse eight speaks of this: “He said, ‘Surely they are my people’… so he became their Savior”. God knew the way to deepen his connection with us was to become like us, so God sent his Son to be our Savior.

Jesus, our Savior, then lived out the next verse. In times when he encountered distressed people – lepers, the woman accused of adultery, Nicodemus, Martha, Peter – in compassion Jesus joined them in their distress. Then, in “love and mercy he redeemed them”. Jesus removed their disease, their stigma, their fear, their worry, their shame… and redeemed them to wholeness. He saved them from all that kept them broken and separated and he restored them to a fullness of life.

In his ministry Jesus mirrored the kindness and compassion of the Father. Jesus Christ lived these things out as he walked the earth. The source of his kindness and compassion was and is love. Love is still what identifies us as Christ’s disciples. By our love, others will know we follow Jesus. By our love, others will come to know Jesus, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. May it be so today and every day.

Prayer: God of love, over and over you redeem and restore me. Over and over. Give me a heart to love like you love, over and over. Give me eyes to see past barriers and stereotypes and all else that can separate. Grant that my hands will always reach out and that my feet will ever step forward in service to you. May this be so, O God. Amen.


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Love Well

Reading: Psalm 66: 1-12

Verses 8 and 9: “Praise our God, O peoples… for he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping”.

Psalm 66 is a song of praise to the Lord. It recognizes some of God’s mighty acts on behalf of the people of Israel. It speaks of how God has refined the people too. There is a corporate feel to the Psalm. But there is also a personal feel. Often when visiting the older members of our congregation, they express gratitude that God has granted them one more day. That spirit also exists in the Psalm.

Many will come to worship in an attitude of gratitude. They enter the sacred space ready to rejoice and to praise the Lord. But each time we gather for worship some come with burdens or grief to bear. The recent loss of a loved one still stings. The news of cancer or some other illness is still rocking their world. The pressures of school and/or sports feels like a heavy weight upon their shoulders. These folks feel like they are in the refining fire or that the water has risen pretty high in their lives. Some will share their burden or grief yet will still leave with it. They are the ones that really need to hear the story of what God has done and can do. They come to worship seeking a little hope.

In verses eight and nine we read, “Praise our God, O peoples… for he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping”. For most of us, this is where we are. We’ve not always been here though. Because life is life we all can relate to those who question their situation, who question God, who do not feel that they are standing on a solid foundation. Because we have been there, we can provide encouragement and we can offer the hope of Jesus Christ to those with burdens or grief. To know that God is good and to be reminded of God’s love helps them to take one step forward. As people of God, may we love well those that are most in need.

Prayer: God, you are abundant in your love. Your mercies keep coming, new every morning. My life is the story of “come and see what God has done”. Help me to share that story well, introducing others to what you can and want to do in their lives. Amen.


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Eyes to See

Reading: Luke 21: 25-36

Verses 26 and 26: “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars… nations will be in anguish… men will faint from terror”.

In our gospel lesson for this week, Jesus tells us that there will be signs that signal His second coming. In our opening verses, He says, “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars… nations will be in anguish… men will faint from terror”. These verses make it sound like it will be evident when the time is at hand. Yet for thousands of years people have seen catastrophic wars and diseases and disasters and wondered: is it now?

Since war and violence and pestilence seem to be natural parts of our world that occur with regularity and frequency, it is hard to interpret any of these as the signs that Jesus Christ is speaking of in today’s passage. So how will we know? I think the better question is: how do we see?

In our modern world we often rely on medicine instead of prayer. We turn to prayer as a last resort. We turn to ourselves to solve life’s problems instead of seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When this doesn’t work, we may try and numb ourselves or may turn to other ways to take our minds off the matter. Again, we turn to faith when all of our efforts to solve, avoid, numb, forget, ignore… have failed. We do not always see the world – both the bad as well as the good – through eyes of faith. If we are looking for signs with our human eyes, surely we will miss the signs from God.

To use a simple illustration, I see this revealed at funerals. If the person and family are people of faith, they see the loss with a long-term vision. If the person and/or family is not a person or people of faith, then the death is the end. Both families feel the sting and pain of human loss, but when viewed through eyes of faith, the hurt is tempered by the hope of eternal life and by thoughts of eventual reunion. These same can be said for how people view change, other losses, hard times…

Yes, Jesus will return. If we are looking for, even anticipating this, then we see the world with eyes of faith and our daily lives are so much richer. We will see signs of the kingdom often, being strengthened and encouraged along the way. May we ever be on the watch, seeing with eyes of faith, eager and ready to encounter Jesus here and when we do stand before Him one day. Amen.

Prayer: Lord, prepare me. Lord, give me kingdom eyes to see. Come Lord Jesus, come. Amen.


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The Healer

Reading: Mark 6: 53-56

Verse 56: “They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed”.

Illness and disease can separate us. When we have minor maladies like the flu or a cold, we often want to be left alone. Only the closest of family wants to be around us. After not too many days we long to return to good health and the company of others. When the illness or disease is cancer or something else difficult to treat, some people will shy away or disconnect because the discomfort level is high. Today, though, most of us have access to good medical care and most diseases do not affect our relationships and connections to family and friends. This was not the case in Jesus’ day.

At the time our passage occurred, illness usually meant isolation. To a devout Jew, illness meant sin and that created a barrier. Some groups, lepers for example, were forced to live in isolated communities, away from all family and friends. Contact with blood or a dead body made one unclean and meant a period of separation and purification. People with most diseases not only faced isolation and stygma; they had very few medical options as well. There was no clue what many illnesses even were, much less any cures. So we can begin to imagine what hope came with the rumors of Jesus’ healing touch coming to a town near you.

Mark records that when people heard Jesus was near, they ran and carried the sick on mats to where He was. Wherever Jesus went, the sick amassed. Many, many would do the same today if given the chance. Imagine how those with no hope would run! Imagine how those with no money or coverage for care would run to where Jesus was! Mark writes, “They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed”. It is a powerful image to hold in our minds. Not only to be restored physically but emotionally and spiritually and relationally. It was quite a healing that Jesus offered.

Today many seek healing. For some it is physical but for others it is spiritual and/or relational. In this time and place, in a few moments of quiet, may we pray for those we know who need healing. May we lift them up to Jesus, bringing them before the Healer.


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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 Healer

Reading: Mark 5: 25-34

Verse 33: “The woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at His feet…”

Today’s passage is a story of absolute faith. It is the story of what Jesus can do when we are willing to lay it all on the line and to totally trust it to His power.

The woman who sought out Jesus is long suffering. She had been bleeding for twelve years. Imagine being ill for that long. We get all grumpy and fussy when we have had a cold or the flu for a few days. Just imagine having a cold for over 4,000 days in a row. The woman is now financially ruined. Our passage tells us that she has spent everything on any and all doctors that would see her. She has probably been to every rabbi and priest too. But she only gets worse. She is probably at her last emotional straw too. Illness was equated with sin. Blood made her unclean. This woman has been dealing with this condition essentially alone – outside of society and most likely away from all family.

The woman’s situation reminds me of folks I have known who struggle or struggled with addictions. This disease gets ahold of them and it won’t quit. One by one family and friends are driven away. They find themselves mostly alone. Despite treatment and new plans and all else they can do, the illness still has a hold of them. On another less obvious level, the woman’s situation also reminds me of the sins in our lives that just keep hanging around. For me, the need to be in control is an almost constant battle. I can trust God for a time, but pride and ego seem to always surface, tempting me to take control again. I know I need to trust God more fully, but…

This broken woman desperately seeks out Jesus. Her faith is so strong that she just needs to touch His clothes to receive healing. It is a faith powerful enough that Jesus senses healing power leaving Him. As Jesus asks who touched Him, she knows. She knows she must confess. “The woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at His feet…”. I can see Jesus gently helping her to stand and warmly smiling at her as He says, “Your faith has healed you. Go in peace”. What powerful words from Jesus.

Do you need to hear these words? Do you know a friend or another who needs to hear these words? Reach out to Jesus in faith. Help guide another to the Healer. May we all honestly turn to the only One who can free us. May we wholly trust in Jesus. May we find healing. In His name we pray. Amen.


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All of the Time

Reading: Psalm 8: 2

Even though God and His creation draw praise and worship from some, others do not see the beauty and majesty of His creation or acknowledge His power and might.  Instead of lives that steward and protect His world and all He has created, some choose to abuse the earth and its inhabitants for their own gain.  Some even go so far as to murder, to wage war, to pillage the land for its resources.  They ignore or deny God’s existence because it eases their consciences.

In nature we also find occurrences or events that seem to fly in the face of God and His love.  Tsunamis and earthquakes destroy property and kill scores if not hundreds of people.  Disease strikes and takes innocent lives, often too soon or too young.  Individuals or groups carry out heinous crimes or spew hate and we shake our heads.  There is much pain and death and sorrow in this world.  But God does not cause these things to happen.  Violent storms are part of nature; disease and death come to perishable and frail human bodies; and, at times, mental illness occurs or Satan’s plans occasionally win the day.

We can ask where is God in the midst of all this.  We can ask why God doesn’t intervene to keep all harm from His children.  These are hard questions.  But we know the rain falls on the just and on the unjust.  God loves the sinner just as much as the saint.  God does plan good for our lives.  He blesses us with gifts and talents and often with many resources.  He seeks to be in a personal relationship with us.  In the midst of our trials, God sheds tears right along with us.  He seeks to be our rock in the storm, our comforter in the pain.  Simply put, God seeks to be present to us all of the time, in the good and in the bad, not just on some days.  May we too do the same.