pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The End?

Reading: John 11: 1-27

Verse 17: “On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days”.

Each time I read this passage from John 11, I have the same initial reactions. Why didn’t Jesus heal Lazarus from afar? This is clearly within his options as Jesus has done this before for another who was ill (John 4). Adding depth to the question is the relationship that Jesus enjoyed with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus – they were good friends. If he were to heal anyone from afar, wouldn’t it be a good friend? Jesus does “heal” Lazarus after all. But that is for tomorrow’s part of the story.

Today’s passage largely centers around the idea of time. Here we see Jesus operating in one aspect of time while the disciples, Mary and Martha, and all those mourning operate in another aspect of time. Once in a while we step into Jesus’ time, but most often we live like the rest of the people in the passage. Mary and Martha send out the call for their good friend, Jesus, to come heal their brother Lazarus. They want Jesus to come now. They think Jesus needs to come now. The disciples probably think Jesus should leave now. Jesus stays two more days before beginning the journey to Bethany.

We often want things now too. We, as a general rule, do not like to wait. We all want COVID-19 to be over last week, right? We have all wanted the new job, the wedding or due date, the first day of college… to be here now. If we are ill or suffering, we want God to intervene now. We are also familiar with being on the other of the spectrum. If Lazarus were our brother, we would want death to come never. Yet it does come. In Martha’s words we hear words we have spoken or at least thought: “Lord, if you had been here…”

When Jesus arrives we learn that Lazarus has been dead for four days. The time for healing has surely passed. At least in Mary and Martha’s minds, in the disciples’ minds, in all the mourner’s minds, even in our minds – unless you know the end of the story. Jesus does. He knows the end of our story too. He reveals it in verses 25 and 26: “I am the resurrection and the life… whoever lives and believes in me will never die”. Jesus is not just talking of our earthly time. He is also speaking of unbounded time – of God’s time. Believing in Jesus brings true life to this side of time. But he is also saying that our last breath here is only the end of our earthly time and life. The moment of death is just the beginning of our eternal life with God. This is the resurrection that all who believe cling to. It shatters our limited understanding of time. Thanks be to God for this “ending” to our story.

Prayer: Father of all, thank you for your eternal claim on me and upon all who call your Son our Lord and Savior. It brings hope in today and on the hardest of days. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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A Psalm for Today

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”.

For many of us, just hearing the first verse of Psalm 23 triggers the same response as hearing these words: “Our Father, who art in heaven…”. The words of Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer are deeply embedded in our hearts and minds. This week’s “Disciplines” devotional writer, Don Salier, describes Psalm 23 this way: “We find deep life and faith compressed into these few verses”. We do indeed!

This Psalm of David speaks of the love and care that he enjoyed in his relationship with God. These words are beloved because we too can experience and relate them to our own relationship with God. The opening verse speaks of God’s care and provision, of the guidance and protection we receive. The ideas of green pastures and quiet waters ooze with love and care, with rest and renewal. Keeping us on the “paths of righteousness” requires a LOT of guidance and patience on God’s part. The fact that God does this for all of our lives shouts volumes about the depth of God’s love for you and me. And then verse four! In the worst times of life, God is right there. The valley may literally be death. Or it might be addiction. It might be divorce or the unexpected loss of a job. In these valleys the words of David always ring true: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. God is our ever present help in times of need.

Turning to verse five we remember the table prepared for us in two ways. One is the great feast that awaits us in heaven. The second is the great feast that greets us at the communion table. In both settings our cup will and does overflow with God’s mercy and love. Lastly comes the closer, verse six. Yes, yes, yes! Within our relationship with the Lord, goodness and love are ours. In this life’s days and in all of our days in the life to come, we who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will dwell in the house of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, oh how these words of David fill my heart with joy. Thank you for placing these words upon his heart so that they fill my heart. Thank you for your love. It is amazing and so life-giving. All praise and honor are yours, my God. Amen.


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Open to Others

Reading: Luke 12: 13-21

Verse 15: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”.

On its most basic level the parable of the rich man is about greed and the negative decisions it can lead to. In the parable a bumper crop triggered the man’s “mine” instincts. He decided he had to build bigger barns to store his new crop. He coveted his grain because in it he saw not only financial security but also a chance to take some time to enjoy life. He was very focused on self.

Possessions and wealth are not the only things we can feel greed over and can seek to covet. This morning I read about a small neighborhood church in a changing community that decided to take a chance and reach out. Instead of holding onto their church, they opened their doors and invited their new immigrant neighbors inside. They invited them in and began praying with them – to find homes and jobs and for comfort to their loneliness. The praying led to relationships and that small church grew as their new friends became brothers and sisters in Christ.

Some churches could see new faces as threats to what they have and know. In many cases immigrants are cast in an “us” and “them” scenario. And immigrants are not the only people groups that can be seen in an “us” and “them” framework. When we create perceived differences between ourselves and another group of people, we are denying that they too were created in the image of God. When we allow greed to put up a barrier between us and our neighbors, we are holding tightly to what we have always known or had and are not allowing God’s love to work in our neighborhood, in our community, in our world, or in our own heart.

The rich man was focused only on self. He could not see all he had to offer his neighbors. His greed prevented him from seeing beyond himself and from experiencing God’s love at work. In the end, what good did all that grain do him? Storing up and holding things for ourselves – goods, money, time, compassion, prayers, empathy, a place at the table – does not make us rich towards God either. May we all learn a little from the rich man and from the church that opened its doors to those outside. May we practice what we learn.

Prayer: Lord God, who is out there today for me to engage? Lead me to share your love with another today. Soften my heart and open my eyes, hands, and feet. Amen.


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The One Thing

Reading: Luke 10: 41-42

Verse 42a: “Only one thing is needed”.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are all called to be more like Mary. We are called to not only be more like Mary than Martha but also to be more like Mary than we currently are. If we truly want to have a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, then it must be the priority in our lives.

When one considers the things that keep us from being more dedicated to Christ, the list can be long and it can vary greatly from person to person. For me, busyness can be my greatest challenge. My morning quiet time is pretty set and established. It has been a constant for many years. Where I struggle is once my regular day begins. I have a routine for my “job” and I can struggle when too many other things are added to my standard to-do list. One or two is okay, but I can reach the point where I feel stress. Then I can become much like Martha. My routine can become a barrier. I know I miss some opportunities to minister or the chance to encounter God once in a while because I allow my job to become my priority.

Others struggle with work too. For others, the struggle is with the kids. They want to keep the kids busy and active and they over schedule. Life becomes about getting the kids to the next event or practice, to the next tournament, to the next… For others, technology is the consuming focus in their lives. Scrolling through Facebook or keeping the streak alive or making sure that all they do is pushed to the social media world is what occupies every non-working moment. And for others, the challenge comes from other things – a hobby, an addiction, a loved one in need of constant care… There are many things, often good in degrees, that can become our priority.

Jesus says, “Only one thing is needed”. We try and fill our lives with many things. But only one thing is needed. We try and occupy our with many things. But only one thing brings peace. We try and not look deep within but only one thing brings true joy. Yes, only one thing is needed. May we choose Jesus first every day, the only thing we truly need in our lives.

Prayer: Lord God, much of the time Jesus is my one thing. But not always. Help me to keep my eyes and heart connected to Jesus, each day making him more and more of my life. Amen.


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Trust in God

Reading: Ruth 1: 1-18

Verse 11: “Return home my daughters. Why would you come with me”?

Naomi had arrived in Moab with a husband and two sons. In time, the two sons married two Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. They were married ten years. During this time in Moab, Naomi became a widow and had to rely on her sons and daughter-in-laws for care and provision. This would have developed a strong relationship with Orpah and Ruth. After ten years, both sons die, leaving one older widow and two younger widows. Soon thereafter the famine ends and Naomi decides to return home to Judah to live amongst her own people. Initially Orpah and Ruth prepare to leave Moab, their homeland, to go with Naomi.

Naomi realizes this and tells them to stay in Moab. Naomi says, “Return home my daughters. Why would you come with me”? She encourages them to remarry, to find a new husband in their native lands. In the event that they do not remarry or if it takes time, at least Orpah and Ruth can return to their parents’ homes for food, shelter, … Orpah sees the logic in this this and kisses Naomi goodbye. I think I would have been tempted to stay if I was in this situation. The familiar is comfortable, it is more secure. Being married and having a family was of utmost importance. Orpah made a sensible and good choice.

When have I faced a similar decision? When have I had to choose between staying with the known versus stepping out in faith? When have you faced such a decision? For some it is going off to college, for some it is getting married, for some it is transferring to a new job in a new place. For some it is ending a relationship or saying goodbye to a loved one. Each involves risk or doubt or grief or all of these and more. Each requires a trust in God. For me, it was leaving a long teaching career and entering full-time ministry. God has been with me as I have gone to foreign lands and experience new challenges. God has gone with me and I trust that He will continue to do so. May it be so for you as well.

Lord God, thank you for always being present, always bringing me courage and trust. May I ever cling to you as life continues to happen. Amen.


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18″ Journey

Reading: Job 42: 1-6

Verse 5: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you”.

In our passage today, for Job, God has made that 18″ journey. Previous to his great trials, Job was a righteous man. He was obedient in following the Law. He worshipped God on the Sabbath, he gave to his local synagogue, he spoke to God daily. In life, Job was an honest man, a hard worker, a person who could be counted on. Job lived a blessed life – a wife, lots of children, large herds and flocks, many servants, good friends. Job was blessed and saw God as the source of his blessings.

Then one horrible day the storm hit and Job’s world was rocked. It was not a doctor saying they had found cancer. It was not a spouse saying they were done with the marriage. It was not a boss handing him a pink slip. These are horrible things that we and those we love experience. For Job, it was losing all of his kids, flocks, herds, and servants. And then being covered in painful sores.

Job succeeded in two things during his trial: he knew that God was still with him and he knew that God was ultimately in control. Yes, Job questioned why all this was happening to him – much like we do in our trials. But Job held onto God. In the wrestling with and questioning of God, Job was transformed. Verse 5 speaks of this: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you”. Job knew who God was and he followed all His rules – because that is what you do. He knew who God was and he followed out of obedience. But then Job experienced God up close and personal. He got to know God because of and through the trial. God made that 18″ journey from head to heart. Job now had a personal relationship with God.

If God exists in your head, may the Lord bless you with a season of wrestling and questioning, drawing you into relationship. If God dwells in your heart, join me in rejoicing as we shout “thanks be to God”!

Lord, I thank you for dwelling in my heart. I thank you for such a great love that loves even me. I pray for my fellow brothers and sisters who have begun their journey but gave yet to surrender their heart. Move in them, Lord, to become the king of the throne of their heart as well. May it be so. Amen.


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Truths

Reading: Job 38: 34-41

Verse 35: “Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are'”?

As we continue on in Job 38, we continue to see God pushing back against Job’s questioning. God asks, “Can you…”, “Who provides…”, and “Do you send the lightning bolts on way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are'”? In these questions we find answers that remind us of God’s love and care for the creatures and God’s dominion over nature. God is a God of power and at times this leads us to stand in awe of God. Until life turns south and we feel as if this God of power is absent. In the midst of a trial, when we feel all alone, we can doubt God’s power and presence. Through these experiences we can connect with Job.

We want a God that is loving, always swooping in to heal our hurts. We want a God of Justice who marches in to right the wrongs done to us. We want a God of knowledge and compassion, always seeing our needs and wants, always responding quickly to them. We want a God who empathizes with us when loss comes, walking tangibly at our side and even carrying us when needed. This is the God that Job had known and now longs for. Here too we can connect with Job.

As we journey in life we come to know God as the powerful creator of the universe. We come to know God as a personal and intimate God. Even though Job began to walk God as he struggled with his ongoing testing, Job held firm to these truths about God. These truths carried him through. They will carry us through as well. May it be so for you and for me.

Caring Father, I rejoice in the times when you have been so near I felt I could touch you. I marvel in awe when I see your finger prints on a newborn baby or in a beautiful sunset. Help me to cling to these things when I find myself in a trial, trusting in your plan, resting in the assurance of your love. Amen.