pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Epiphany Moments

Reading: Matthew 2: 1-12

Verse 11: “They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him”.

Today is Epiphany!! An epiphany is a “sudden and profound understanding” of something. In the Christian church, Epiphany, or the feast of the Magi, celebrates the visit of the wise men to the Messiah. The original Epiphany had celebrated the baptism of Jesus, when God gave those present and all who would read the account the sudden and profound understanding that Jesus Christ is God’s son. With said understanding came the directive to listen to him.

The visit of the Magi became the focus of Epiphany in early church times. Looking back on the early story, the church came to realize the true epiphany in the story – Jesus Christ came for the whole world. These men from the far east would certainly be seen as Gentiles. They were clearly outside the Jewish faith. Yet God called them. Through a sign in the heavens – a new star – one that God knew would get their attention, God called. Using their belief that the world and nature reveal things to humanity, God led the Magi to come and see the newborn Jesus.

Following the star was the Magi’s natural instinct. Once they arrived, something else took over. We read, “They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him”. Jesus was not on a throne. He did not dwell in a palace. Nothing about his surroundings or his mother or his economic status would ever suggest “king”. Yet in great joy they knew – this is the one! They worshipped and gave gifts. Guided by God, they then return to their country.

Today or tomorrow or the next day, when we have an epiphany moment, seeing God anew or in the face of one we encounter, will we too stop and praise God? Will we even recognize the hand of the divine at work? If we, like the Magi, head out seeking God, then God will find us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord of all nations and all people, thank you for being such an inviting and welcoming God. You brought the Magi in, you welcome sinners like me. Your love abounds for all people. May my love look a little like your love. Amen.


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To All Who Receive…

Reading: John 1: 10-18

Verse 14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”.

Verse fourteen is so full of power and truth when one stops and delves down deep into all that lies behind these ten words. These words, of course, connect back to verses one through five. Yesterday we read these verses that speak of how Jesus is divine and forever and is the light and life of the world. One that powerful became flesh. One who is divine set that aside to become one of us – to dwell among us. I’ve pondered these thoughts dozens and dozens of times and am awestruck once again that Jesus and God would do such a thing for us.

Awesome as this is for me and probably for you too, we still have the realities of verses ten and eleven. Even though all things are created by and through the divine and even though every single one of us has the spark of the divine in us, some in this world do not recognize Jesus. They do not recognize Jesus in the Bible; they do not recognize Jesus in the Holy Spirit that tries to move and speak into their life; and, they do not recognize Jesus in the faces of the poor, the marginalized, the broken… Their hearts are hard and are focused only on self.

Verse eleven remains generally true. Most Jews still have not accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Still they wait. Some have turned to Jesus and Revelation tells us that in the end times 144,000 will come to Jesus as Lord and Savior. This verse is also a truth for some who will sit in pews tonight or tomorrow. They are “Christian” for the hour they are present. They carry the tag with them but live and die for the things of the world and not for the cross of Jesus Christ.

And then we turn to verse twelve – “to all who receive him…”. For all who accept and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, Jesus gives the right to become children of God. If one but confesses Jesus as Lord, one is given life and light and love and are welcomed into the family of God. In public profession they are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit as they emerge from the waters of baptism, claimed forever as a child of God. Note that there are no exclusions or limitations or strings attached. Just as we have received grace and truth, may we bear that to others, ever working to build the kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: What a beautiful thing it is when another enters the family of God! This day and every day may you use me as you will God, bringing the light and love and grace and mercy and healing and truth of Jesus Christ out into the darkness and into the brokenness of the world. Lead me out to draw others into this beautiful family of God. Amen.


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2020 – Committing

Reading: Ephesians 1: 3-14

Verse 4: “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”.

Our verses for today are a great reminder for us, as disciples of Jesus Christ, of who we are in him. These verses are a great summary of the good news. These verses also continue with the “now and not yet” of Advent and also add in a touch of the past. In verse four we again read: “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”.

My mind connects to John 1: 1-5 when I read these words. In John’s gospel we read of Jesus in the same time frame: “In the beginning was the Word…”. This is the time frame that Paul is referring to. Since before Genesis 1 happened, you and I have been chosen by God to be holy and blameless. When we claim our “inheritance” and stand before the throne, we will be made forever holy and blameless in his sight. In this life, when we confess and repent of our sins, God takes away our sin and the shame and guilt and we do stand for a time as holy and blameless in his sight. But that time is usually short-lived. Our selfish hearts and the lures of the flesh draw us back into the world and we are no longer without sin. We do not remain in sin, but this is a cycle that we are pretty much always engaged in as we live in the flesh. Our human nature and our divine nature are ever at odds.

As we near 2020 I encourage you to consider the bigger scope of your faith journey. It is a journey towards perfection in this life. The times of walking as a disciple increase as our forays into sin decrease. As we walk the road of faith our love of God and neighbor grows. This leads us to walking longer stretches as children of the light. Our ears become more and more attuned to the Holy Spirit and our ability to be holy increases with the maturing of our faith. So as we enter 2020, what faith practice could you commit to for the coming year that would move you closer to following Jesus Christ more fully? Ponder it and pray over it, then commit!

Prayer: Lord God, as 2020 is about to dawn, help me to commit to being a better reader. Lead and guide me to grow closer to you and to my brothers and sisters in Christ as I commit to this plan. May this all be so in 2020. Amen.


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Like Him

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-11

Verses 6-7: “[Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant”.

Today’s passage is at once both awesome and humbling, inspiring and challenging. It is awesome and inspiring because the divine chose to become human. Jesus stepped out of heaven and became one of us. This is a deep, awesome display of love. That Jesus would take on flesh and dwell among us is hard to fathom. Then to look at how Jesus lived, that is inspiring. Paul encouraged the Philippians and encourages us to have the same attitude. He writes, “[Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant”. Jesus set aside His divinity and lived as a servant. He let go of divine power and grasped the role of a servant instead.

Jesus could have summoned a legion of angels or done a little wham! and bam! and been rid of the Romans, the religious leaders, and the whatever else was inhibiting a fuller understanding of God’s kingdom. He could have placed Himself as the next great king, ruling from Jerusalem like King David used to do. Instead, though, Jesus taught little groups, small crowds, and mostly individuals. He met and ministered to people right where they were at. For some this meant a story or a teaching that called them to a better walk with God. For others Jesus healed them of whatever it was that bound them or kept them from community or relationship with God and others. In all He did and said, Jesus modeled God’s love.

If Jesus were a powerful political king up on a big throne, you and I and most people would think we could never do that. And we would be right. So here is where it gets humbling and challenging. Jesus became one of us. Yes, a perfect and far superior one of us. But in many, many ways Jesus was a common person – a basic human being. This means that we can be like Jesus. We can’t be Jesus, but we can be like Jesus. The divine took on human flesh. This human flesh that we are can take on the divine. We can be Christ-like servants living out God’s love. To understand this is both humbling and challenging.

Jesus became like us so that we could become like Him. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for giving me an example that I can try and live into. I fail often and I don’t always have a servant’s heart. You are divine with a little flesh. I am a lot of flesh reaching for the divine. Please make me more and more like you, Lord Jesus. Amen.


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Divine and Human

Reading: Mark 11: 1-11

Verse Two: “You will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden”.

Today is Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem amidst a cheering and excited crowd of supporters. It is a proclamation of hope and longing by the people. They so want someone to free them from the Romans. For the most part, over the past three years, they have clearly missed seeing the type of kingdom that Jesus is building. It is not a kingdom of might and military power but one of grace and love and mercy and forgiveness and community.

Today’s first clue comes in the mode of transportation. Jesus does not select a fine warhorse to ride into the city. Instead He gives these instructions to the disciples: “You will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden”. Jesus chooses a meek and young animal. That He is able to ride the colt amidst all the noise and celebration testifies to His quiet power. But at the time only His inner circle of disciples would marvel at this. The masses ignored the colt because they wanted and could only see one thing – a possible Messiah to save them from the Romans.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, He goes to the temple. Many probably followed His there, presuming that He would raise His hands to quiet the crowd before giving a rousing speech to stir up the people even more. But Jesus enters the temple and simply looks around. He then quietly exits the city. Perhaps Jesus was just taking stock of the state of the temple and beginning to formulate a plan for His last week.

Jesus and His disciples quietly clip out of town and go to Bethany for the night. No crowds follow, eager to see what is next. We know that Jesus and company often take rest when they visit Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, so we assume this is where they went to spend the night. Their home is a place that is special to Jesus. It is a place where He finds rest, peace, and community, surrounded by people He loves and that love Him. With the week that lies ahead it is a good place to be for a night.

In the small details of the passage today we get a glimpse into both Jesus’ obedience to God’s plan and into His humanity in needing to surround Himself with a loving community. One shows His strength and true power and the second shows a humble need to be loved and to belong. The divine and the human in one. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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To the Cross

Reading: Luke 23: 33-38

As we draw near to the end of our season in the Gospel of Luke, we come to the cross.  In a way it is odd to come to the cross as we prepare to celebrate Advent, a time when we remember Jesus’ birth.  Yet it serves to remind us of why Jesus needed to be born and to live among us.  After all, Jesus came to die.

Oh how the people wanted to have a Messiah who would rid them of the oppressive Romans.  They were looking for a new King David.  During Jesus’ ministry He brought much healing and offered some great teaching on how God really wanted humanity to live together.  For all who saw and heard Jesus or even just the stories, they all knew that Jesus was something special.  But Jesus was not the kingly Messiah they wanted so they mocked Him on the cross.  He did not meet their expectations so they ridiculed and abused Him, releasing some of their own frustrations with their current situation.

It would have been so tempting to lash out from the cross and maybe even to really save Himself.  But Jesus came for a far greater purpose.  To save Himself would have been selfish.  Jesus always placed God first, others second, and Himself last.  To save Himself would have gone against all that Jesus was and is.  Instead, Jesus chose to give Himself.  Instead of releasing His human form from the cross and wiping out the Romans, Jesus unleashed His divine self and defeated an enemy far greater and much stronger than any human empire.  On the cross and in His resurrection, Jesus defeated sin and death.  Sin and death had been ruling since the first sin entered the world through Adam and Eve.

This is why we come to the cross just before we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth.  It is the greatest gift mankind has ever been given – the freedom from sin and death.  Thank you Jesus.


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Good

Reading: Jeremiah 4: 11-12 and 22-26

As I read Jeremiah today, I wondered how similar the world today looks to God.  I wonder how much of the earth seems to be filled with people who do not know God and who are skilled at doing evil.  From God’s perspective, is the world still a good place?

If one reads the headlines of the world news feed, the stories of violence and evil certainly dominate the news.  But, in general, I believe they involve a very, very small percentage of the world.  For example, on a day when terrorists strike and kill scores of people, there are billions and billions of people not doing evil.  While evil in all forms must be and is addressed, those perpetrating violence and evil acts are still in the very small minority.

While most of the world’s seven billion plus people are not Christians or other God-believing people, I do believe the spark of God resides in all humanity.  In each human being is the inate sense of good and evil.  Some choose to do evil for a variety of reasons, but there is still that twinge of good in all but the rarest of people.  Because if this spark of the divine, most people seek to be a ‘good’ person.  Most people will not intentionally harm another person and will feel remorse when they do so.  Most people will try and treat their ‘neighbor’ well and will help another when presented with the opportunity.

Through the New Testament we understand our call as Christians to be to bring the good news to all people of all nations.  This is both a collective and individual charge.  Some are missionaries in far corners of the world.  Some are translating and providing Bibles to people all around the world.  But for most of us, the charge is right here in our own family, right here in our own neighbor, right here at our job or school.  Today, each of us will have opportunity to do good and to be the gospel lived out.  May we make the most of our opportunities today.