pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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focus

Reading: Luke 21: 25-36

Verse 36: “Be always on the watch… that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”.

Advent begins this Sunday. It is a season of anticipation and expectation. It reminds us that we live in a now-not-yet space. Last week’s passage from Revelation reminded us that Jesus “was, is, and is to come”. This connects to our passage today and is a great pre-Advent thought. The Latin word that we derive “Advent” from is itself derived from the Greek word “parousia” – a term commonly used to describe the second coming of Jesus. Our passage today opens with signs that will proceed Jesus “coming in a cloud with power and great glory”. We are encouraged to “stand up and lift your heads” as we await His return. We are encouraged to stand up and declare our faith – to wish people a joyous “Merry Christmas” (instead of the secular “Happy Holidays”) and to focus ourselves and others on Jesus Christ during Advent.

Jesus uses the illustration of the fig tree to keep us focused and looking up and forward. Just as the buds indicate summer is near, we are to look for signs of the kingdom near us. Where can we see hope and love lived out this week? Where can we experience mercy and grace and forgiveness this week? Where can we be signs of the nearness of God’s kingdom, bringing hope and love, mercy and grace and forgiveness to other’s lives this week?

Our passage today closes with another good reminder. It ties back into the “stand up” idea. Maybe Jesus knew what Christmas would become. He warns us to be careful lest we become”weighed down” and filled with anxiety. As a parent I can remember times when I was weighed down and filled with anxiety over the gifts and reactions to them. It can be easy to go there. When our focus shifts away from God and His kingdom, then yes, the day will close upon us “like a trap”.

Instead, Jesus encourages us to “Be always on the watch… that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”. Jesus must ever be our focus during the Advent season. Our eyes and heart must remain fixed on the Son of Man. Our lives will reveal what is truly in our heart and soul this Advent season. May Jesus Christ be what people experience in and through us.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to focus in on you alone this Advent season. Keep my eyes and heart on you and the coming of your kingdom. May my life reveal your Son as the focus of Advent and of Christmas. Amen.


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For Us

Reading: Mark 9: 38-41

Verse 40: “For whoever is not against us is for us”.

Who is in? Who is out? What do I have to do to be a part of this group or organization? What are the rules?

These are the questions we ask. We prefer rule and order. We like to be around people who are like us, people who have similar interests and hobbies, people who see the world as we see the world. It is even the way of the natural world. Lions hang out with lions, chickadees with chickadees.

In today’s passage, John asks Jesus about a man they do not know. This man was driving out demons in Jesus’ name. The disciples initial reaction was to tell the man to stop because he is not one of them. Who could walk into the church tomorrow morning and draw a similar reaction?

John is struggling with the opening questions that I posed today. This man is out, he is not part of their group, he is not following all the right rules. To John, one must be part of the group that follows Jesus 24-7. If you do not follow this rule, you better not be doing miracles in Jesus’ name. Jesus does not see it this way. Not even close. Jesus says to John and the disciples, “Whoever is not against us is for us”. Here we see Jesus once again being inclusive instead of exclusive.

If Jesus were the pastor left in our church tomorrow and “that” person or persons walked in, He would welcome them, introduce himself, help them to find a good seat, and would make sure they got coffee and cookies after church. He sees this man driving out demons as being for the kingdom. He wants His disciples to see people this way too. If you are not against us you are for us. For Jesus, all are welcome in the kingdom, all are invited. May we see all people this way too.

Lord, help me to be inclusive and welcoming and open to all people. When my heart or mind begins to erect barriers, smash them down. Give me eyes to see as Jesus saw and a heart to love as He loved. Amen.


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Keep My Eyes

Reading: Mark 4: 35-41

Verse 41: “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him”!

One of the things Jesus taught about just before getting into the boat was about the lamp on a stand. He reminded the crowd (and the disciples) that faith was something that was put on a stand to bring out whatever was hidden in the dark corners and to open what is concealed there. Jesus concludes this teaching with the statement that whoever has faith will be given more and that whoever does not have faith, even what little they have will be lost.

As the seas got choppy and the water level in the boat began to rise, the disciples had a choice to make. They could turn their focus to God to seek His protection and help. Or they could keep their eyes on the storm and the wind and the rising water level in the boat. Often in our lives we come to the same point. Our decision is the same: do we turn to our own powers or do we allow fear to take over or do we simply give up?

He was right there in the boat. I can envision sone of the disciples looking to Jesus and then to the waves, looking to Jesus asleep in the stern and then looking to the rising waves. With each glance away a bit of their faith ebbed away. With each longer gaze upon the rising waters, a bit more of their faith ebbed away. Again, so it is with us. If only we could look to Jesus at the first hint of rain and then keep our eyes on Him alone. If only we could choose to allow Him to be our all in all.

With just a few words Jesus banishes the fear and doubt and worry that had been building with each wave. An absence of faith, a moment of doubt – they allow the deceiver room to bring in thoughts of doubt and fear and worry. After being awakened and calming the storm, Jesus asks, “Do you still have no faith”? Instead of grasping the moment and allowing their faith to grow, the disciples ask, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him”! It can be easy to do. They are caught up in the miracle and not in the miracle-maker. It can be so easy to do. So we pray, Lord, keep my eyes focused on you and you alone. Help me to see you and not just the amazing things you do. Ground my faith in your love and care. Be my all in all today and each day. Amen.


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Eyes of Love

Reading: Mark 15: 21-40

Verses 37-38: “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”.

In Mark’s gospel we get a pretty abbreviated telling of the crucifixion and events surrounding it. It goes something like this: man carries cross, Jesus crucified, divided clothes, people mocked Him, got dark, Jesus cried out then died, curtain torn, some women watched. Mark’s story does have a few more words and details, but not a whole lot more.

It is odd to read through the crucifixion story a week before it actually happens. On Good Friday we will wrestle with it a whole lot more. Yet it is good to think of this day as we prepare to celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend. The children will parade around with palm branches waving, full of excitement, just like the first Palm Sunday crowd. The contrast with these two events is stark and sobering.

When we step back into our own lives, for most folks life is good. We have our routines and the little things that bring us joy. Then one day suffering comes our way. We cling to God and we get through it. After a time, we look back upon said event and we see it differently. We see how God loved and cared for us in the trial. We see what was pain with eyes of love and gratitude.

I think Jesus saw the cross this way – with eyes of love. He knew why He had come. It was to be this sacrifice. He also knew that resurrection was coming. He saw the other side of the suffering so He viewed this difficult and painful experience with eyes of love. “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last”. A simple end. Across town, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”. The thing that kept people separated from the Holy of Holies, where they thought God dwelled, was torn wide open. All will now be able to enter God’s presence directly and personally. I suppose that was another reason that Jesus saw this event with eyes of love too.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend, may we also keep an eye on both the crucifixion and the resurrection. As we do so, we see all of the last days of Jesus with eyes of love. May it be so.


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Intimate, Personal

Reading: Psalm 123

Verse One: “I lift my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven.”

The Psalm today begins by acknowledging that we look up to God whom we envision in heaven, seated on the throne.  It is a position we are comfortable with – God up there, us down here.  This vision fits into our schemata of an all-powerful, almighty God who reigns over all.  This is the type of God we imagine we have.  This God is the God that can do anything.  It is the expectation conveyed in the opening line: “I lift my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven.”

The next verse sees the relationship differently.  Now our eyes look to our master or to our mistress.  We now have the eyes of a slave or maid.  This is perhaps a less comfortable way to look up to God.  To properly understand this image we must understand the context of the times in which this was written.  Slaves and maids lived in the house of the master or mistress, right alongside the rest of the family.  The slave or maid was given food, a bed, and usually spent time in community with the family.  They were an extension of the family in most cases.  Yes, there was a subservient nature to the relationship, but it was also a relationship of love and care.  The slave or maid desired to please the master or mistress, much as a child desires to please their parent.

When we see God as our master or mistress it changes out perspective.  As almighty God in charge of it all, there is a separation or distance between us.  In some ways this view is perhaps safer, less threatening.  As a slave or maid, we are right in there with God.  We are walking and living our day to day life right there with God.  It is a very intimate and personal way to look at our relationship with God.  It is a “hold your hand” relationship instead of a “look up to heaven” relationship.  It is a relationship of mutual dependency.  It is a relationship built upon God’s love and care for us and our personally serving God.  In what ways will we live out this intimate, personal relationship with God today?


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Eyes of the Heart

Reading: Ephesians 1: 15-23

Verse 18: I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…

Paul paints a glorious picture of Jesus Christ in heaven.  He is seated at God’s right hand, far above all earthly rule and authority.  He reigns over all things and is the head of the church – His body.  All the titles that can be given belong to Jesus: Lord, King, Messiah, Master.  It is a far cry from the Jesus who came to earth and was born in a lowly manger.  It is far different company around the throne than He was used to living with in His time on earth – fishermen, shepherds, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers…  The image of Jesus on the throne in Royal splendor is a far different image than Jesus hanging on the cross.  Yet Jesus needed to be all that He was on earth so that He would be who He is in heaven.

Paul writes, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened”.  Experiencing humanity in all its glory and in all it’s gory details gave Jesus eyes to see us for who we are.  Sometimes it is ugly, but it is the truth.  And He still loves us as we are.  He always did when He was here and always will in heaven.  But Paul is praying here for the believers in Ephesus.  It is also a prayer for us.  To have eyes that see as Jesus sees – eyes of the heart – we must be as Jesus was.  We must go among the orphan and widow and sick and outcast.  We must reach out to visit and care for and feed and minister to all who are lost and broken.  When we do as Jesus did – loving all – then we develop “eyes of the heart”.

This day may we go where Jesus would go and love as Jesus loved.  Blessings on your journey to the least and the lost.