pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Never the Same

Reading: Luke 19: 1-10

Verse 5: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today”.

Zacchaeus is like many we see coming to Jesus. He is not popular. He lives on the edge or outside of society. He has few friends. He is looked down upon by the religious order and by almost everyone else. This tax collector is like others who came to Jesus: the lepers, the prostitute, the adulterous woman, the blind, lame, mute, deaf, the possessed… Zacchaeus has chosen his lot in life – one would bid for the lucrative position of tax collector. He chose wealth over many other things and over many relationships. He is where he is in life by his own choices.

How like Zacchaeus we are! We might not be tax collectors but we do often choose things ahead of our faith. Every time we sin – no matter how big or small – we are choosing self over God. Each time we make something more important than God we are elevating self over God. The choice is not limited to wealth or possessions. We can pursue a host of other things more than we pursue our faith. We chase after status and titles, after accomplishments and success. We can work hard so that others notice us or so that we gain that recognition. Yes, we can struggle with keeping faith the top priority in our life.

Zacchaeus heard Jesus was in town and wanted to see him. Zacchaeus was not looking to be healed or to have an audience with Jesus. He was curious. For Zacchaeus, yes, friends and some acceptance would have been nice. But life was okay. Wealth can make life feel okay. So can titles and recognition, possessions and status. Zacchaeus runs ahead of the crowd and climbs a tree just so he can see Jesus pass by.

As Jesus gets to the place in the road adjacent to Zacchaeus’ tree, he stops, looks up at him, and says, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today”. The curious is captured by the curiosity. Life will never be the same for Zacchaeus. It was never the same for the lepers, the prostitute, … It was never the same for us. In this sense, we too were once like Zacchaeus. We were curious about Jesus and he eventually worked his way into our lives. Who do you know that is curious about or is searching for Jesus? Help them to know him today.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the words to speak today to turn hearts to you. Guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Ask, Seek, Knock

Reading: Luke 11: 5-13

Verse 9: “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you”.

When we pray, we enter into intimate connection to God. Whether we are praying the Lord’s Prayer or coming to God at midnight with a desperate plea, connection builds the relationship. In the first story today, the man gets his bread. He did not receive the bread because he asked a friend once, but because he was persistent. He kept asking until he got the response he needed.

In verse 9 Jesus continues the persistence theme by saying, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you”. Unlike the neighbor who responds to alleviate the awkward situation, God responds simply because we ask. God responds because God loves us deeply. Because of the depth of God’s love, God responds with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the indwelling, personal presence of Jesus Christ in the life of a believer. There is no better gift in this life.

In Luke 11 we are reminded of how well an earthly father cares for and provides for his children. Whenever possible, parents want to give all they can to their children. They even want to meet their requests. Asking for bread yields bread, not a stone… Jesus then reminds us then how much more we can expect from God when we go to God in prayer.

If we connect back to yesterday’s reading, to the Lord’s Prayer, we see a God who wants to provide for our daily needs, who offers restoration to our relationships when they are harmed by sin, who desires to live in connection with persistent prayer warriors, and who longs for us to ask, seek, and knock.

When we ask the Holy Spirit – whether for guidance or direction or provision – the Holy Spirit will give. When we seek the Holy Spirit – whether for wisdom or understanding or insight – the Holy Spirit help us find. When we knock because we are feeling lost or separated or confused or… then the Holy Spirit will open doors for us. The power of the Holy Spirit is the living presence of God within us, embodied in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

The intimate relationship we experience with God through the Holy Spirit is a great gift. The presence of the Spirit keeps us rooted in and connected to God. May we be persistent in tapping into that relationship, ever turning to the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, teach me your ways. Attune me to the presence of the Holy Spirit within, opening myself up to all it offers and brings into my life. May your power reign in me. Amen.


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Personal Call

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Verse 15: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for”?

Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early on the first day, prepared to visit the grave. She was present throughout the events of Thursday and Friday, when they tried, beat, and crucified her Lord. She was there when the stone was rolled in place, sealing the end of the story. Mary comes in the darkness, full of sorrow and grief and pain. She at first assumes Jesus’ enemies have stolen the body. Mary tells Peter and John; they run to the tomb and enter, finding just the linen and cloths lying there.

Peter and John return home, but Mary lingers. She stands outside the tomb crying. Grief has been added to grief. What else could she do but stand and weep? Two angels appear in the tomb and ask her why she weeps. Because they have taken the body of her Lord. A second question comes, this time from behind her: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for”? Maybe this is who took the body. Again, tell me where you have put the body. But then it happens. Jesus says to her, “Mary”. In that moment, in that personal and intimate moment, Mary knows it is Jesus. She cries out in recognition and hears the news from Jesus Himself. She goes and tells the disciples the good news: “I have seen the Lord”! Jesus is alive. He is risen!

As it was with Mary, so it is with us. Jesus calls out to each of us: Sue! Peter! Anna! Fred! Melanie! Steve! Beth! Mark! Hanna! Joshua! … When we search, Jesus calls out to us. He seeks us. He finds us. Some have walked a slow but pretty steady journey to the point that Jesus finally became personal, calling out our name. Some have had a sudden encounter with Jesus – unexpected and sudden, caused by situation or circumstance. The same Jesus called out your name. In that moment Jesus became your Lord and Savior. There are many ways to become friends with Jesus Christ. They all begin with the same question asked of Mary: whom are you looking for?

We are all looking for the same thing. All of humanity wants purpose and meaning and relationship. We find all this and more in Jesus Christ. In Him we find a deep satisfaction for all that our soul longs for. The eternal, big questions are all answered by the One who personally calls our name. If you do not know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, open your heart to Him. He will find you. If you know the Lord, rejoice today because we celebrate: He is risen! He is alive! Thanks be to God! Jesus is alive!!

Prayer: Lord of all, you are risen, resurrected, and eternal. Yet you are intimately connected to each of us. Hallelujah! Amen.


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Distance

Reading: Isaiah 64: 5-9

Verse Five: “We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

There are times when we all feel distance from God.  Sometimes it is because we are struggling with sin in our life and this separates us for a time.  Sometimes it is our own inability to move past the guilt or shame that comes from our sin.  We stew init a bit.  We feel unworthy of God’s forgiveness so we do not ask for it.  And some of the time we want to be near God but it just feels as if He were absent or very distant.  We can cause the distance some of the time, but once in a while it is not rooted in us.  It just feels like there is some distance between us and God.

In our writing from Isaiah, there is some distance or separation that the people are feeling.  Verse five opens with a truth: “You come to the help of those that gladly do right”.  This verse may be wishful thinking or it may be a call to get back to doing what is right so that God can again feel present.  As verses five through seven unfold, we see that sin has definitely been a part of the separation.  Isaiah also admits that “no one calls on the name” of God and that no one “strives” to get a hold of God.  There is a complacency also at work here.  despite it primarily being their sins that separate them from God, the people still want to blame God.  Their logic makes no sense.  God cannot be more present.  God’s mercy and grace are always available and at work in our lives.  God never hides from His children.  They are playing the “if only you were here” game with a God who is always there.

The tide begins to turn in verse eight.  Isaiah writes, “We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  He is reminding the people that they are indeed in God’s hands and that, even in the midst of feeling like there is separation, God is still at work.  Even in the trials, God is shaping us too.  Verse nine closes with a plea: “Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people”.  God has, is, and always will be looking upon His people.  It is a reminder to themselves as much as it is a request of God.  At times we too must confess our need for God.

When we feel separation, we must find the root.  If it is sin that separates us from God, may we cast that aside,  repent, and seek God’s forgiveness.  If it is just a feeling, may we seek God with all that we are.  When we seek Him, we will find Him.  Delve into the Word.  Go out and be the hands and feet.  Spend time in fervent prayer.  Lift your voice in praise.  God is present.  We will find Him when we seek Him.  Amen.


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Seeking and Searching

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 11-16

Verse 11: “I will search for my sheep and look after them”.

Our relationship with God is a two-way street.  We are created by God with a spark of God inside each of us as we are created in His image.  From birth God reveals Himself to us through the world and through the people in our lives.  As we grow and mature, we begin to sense our need for something more in life, for God.  If one chooses a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, then this need is filled with faith and with God.  some folks choose to try and fill the God-hole in their life with many other things, none of which ever satisfy, all leaving them searching.

Once we choose God over the things of this world, then we begin to seek more of God.  Our journey of faith becomes one of continual learning and growth.  We always seek to know Him more deeply, more intimately.  We spend time in His word, time in prayer, time in worship, and time in fellowship with other believers.  This all deepens and strengthens our faith and our relationship with Jesus, enriching our lives and bringing us His joy, love, peace, and hope.  In turn, God eventually calls us to go forth and share all of this love, hope, joy, and peace with others.

God also pursues us.  God desires to be in a relationship with all people.  This is what today’s Psalm is all about.  Verse eleven begins with these words, “I will search for my sheep and look after them”.  Jesus, our good shepherd, desires to search for, find, bring in, and care for all the sheep.  The psalmist goes on to explain how, writing, “I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered”.  This speaks both of us during those days or seasons when we have wandered and also of those  who have chosen the wide path of the world.  He seeks to call all people to Himself.  Once the call is heard, Jesus will “bring them back into their own land”.  He will connect us into communities of faith where we find encouragement, support, learning, unity, fellowship, a sense of belonging.

Our passage today ends with words of healing and restoration: “I will search for the lost and the strays.  I will bind up the inured and strengthen the weak”.  Jesus searches for and seeks out all, both the sinners and the saints.  Thanks be to God that Jesus has found you and me.  Thanks be to God that He always calls our name.  Thanks be to God that Jesus continues to search for the least and the lost.  Thanks be to God that Jesus seeks to bring them healing and restoration and to bring them into the family of God.  Thank you Jesus for your love.


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Hearers and Tellers

Reading: Psalm 78: 1-4

Verse 1: “O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth”.

Today the psalmist urges us to listen and to remember.  It begins with listening.  We cannot just hear words but must really listen to the words and their meaning.  This allows us to internalize and understand the words and how they apply to our lives and to our faith.  Once done listening, we also must remember.  The words cannot come in one ear and go out the other.  To remember means to hold onto the words and the affect they have on our life and on our faith.

The psalmist is urging the people Israel to hold onto the teaching and to hold onto the “trustworthy deeds of the Lord”.  In remembering “what our fathers have told us” we begin to build up a collective memory of what God has done for His people.  In doing so, we build up a reservoir of strength to draw upon when we find ourselves in a time of trial or suffering.  All those memories of God at work in the past give us a reassurance that we can trust God to be present in our current need.

But is is not all about taking in and holding on.  We must also be a part of the telling.  The psalmist reminds us that “we will not hide them from our children”.  We must tell our children and the generations after them of the mighty works of God as well.  We must pour into our children and into the future generations so that they too will “hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth”.

We each are a part of the coming and the going out of the faith.  At times we must listen and absorb the stories of the faith – both those in the Bible and those experienced in life.  At other times it must be our voices who pass along the Word and the stories that help others to find and grow in their faith.  Each day may we be hearers as well as tellers, bringing the glory to God in all we do and say as we live out our lives of faith.