pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Moments of Glory

Reading: John 11: 28-45

Verse 40: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God”?

Expectations are a funny thing. When life is good, when things are going well, our expectations are reasonable. We trust that God is in control and we are usually content and at peace. But when a time of trial or unwanted change comes upon us, our expectations can suddenly change. We see these two scenarios lived out in the relationship between Jesus and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Most visits were unrecorded – just pleasant stops on the way here or there filled with good food and good conversation. Early on there was the incident with Martha – the sister that expected Mary to help with the work. Jesus’ expectations were different though. And then there was the time that Mary chose to care for Jesus’ feet. Some present were upset with her, but, again, Jesus’ expectations were different. To him, her action was a gift of preparation.

Today’s story is full of expectations. Mary mirrors Martha’s expectation, saying, “Lord, if you had been here…”. The crowd expected that Jesus would have saved Lazarus. Martha protests moving the stone. She expects death to go unchanged. In the midst of all this Jesus maintains the expectation that he shared with the disciples before they left for Bethany. In verse forty he says to Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God”? Jesus still expects the glory of God to be revealed to the sisters, to the disciples, to the crowd of mourners. Letting them know something is about to happen he thanks God for what is about to be done. Jesus calls out and Lazarus walks out of the grave. In a flash the decay and stench are gone as the breath of life is restored.

At moments in our faith journey we too have these experiences. When we walk with God we too have moments when God does the unexpected, when God breathes new life into our stench and decay. Like all that were there that day outside the tomb, we too stand amazed as God’s glory is once again revealed. In those moments we too hear those words of Jesus: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God”? With joy and praise and awe on our lips, we are amazed by our God – the one who seems to have a habit of going above and beyond our expectations. May we praise that God today.

Prayer: Lord, today as we gather and recall what you did in the valley of dry bones and what you did outside the tomb, may we also reflect on how you bring each of us new life over and over. As we praise and worship you today, may our faith grow. Amen.


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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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Each a Beloved Child

Reading: Luke 16: 19-31

Verse 29: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them”.

In our passage today Lazarus is a person in need. He is a person in need of food and medical care. These are his immediate physical needs. If we are willing to go to certain places and to engage certain folks, we can find people like Lazarus – people with basic needs. Food, shelter, clothing, medical care – people in our land of plenty lack many of these basics. The rich man lived in luxury. In ths life, he never once thought about Lazarus and his needs.

Lazarus also had emotional needs. To be ignored, to be passed by every day, creates a sense of isolation. To know others are avoiding you, averting their eyes to not even make eye contact, negatively impacts one’s self-image. It is hurtful and harmful to have one’s need for companionship, compassion, and conversation to go unmet. Lazarus was a man in need of relationship. We all need to belong.

For many years I was like the rich man. I tried to avoid and ignore those struggling with poverty and homelessness. I’d move to try and walk on the other side of the street. I’d look the other way if I couldn’t avoid the person. I allowed a gap to exist between myself and those who were not like me. In terms of sharing my faith, I thought, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them”. They can read the Bible. They can come to church if they want to know about Jesus. How wrong I was.

Then one day I met Dee and Joel. Soon I met Pat and Rob and Georgia and… I got to know a few who were like Lazarus – people who were like me in so many ways. They all had a story to tell. They all had moms and dads and many had children. We had so much in common. Most of all, I learned that they too were each a beloved child of God. We became friends. It was from this place that not only physical and emotional needs could be addressed, but spiritual needs as well. Once we were friends, Moses and the prophets and Jesus could become part of the conversation.

Those living without Jesus don’t have to end up like the rich man. They can, but they don’t have to. May we each be willing to step across those barriers, real and imagined, to engage our fellow children of God, sharing our hope and Jesus’ love with them.

Prayer: God, thank you for continuing to work on me. Thank you for opening my eyes and my heart to those is need. Continue to lead and guide me to be Jesus’ hands and feet, to speak your word, to meet needs as I can, to be a light shining in the world. Amen.


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Knowing Their Name

Reading: Luke 16: 6-19

Verse 20: “At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus”.

In the opening verses of Luke 16 Jesus talks about how many the love the things of this world and about how shrewd the worldly are in getting what they want. Jesus reminds us that we are rich in the things of God and he encourages us to be faithful in how we use these blessings. He concludes by warning us that we cannot serve both God and wealth. Just a few verses later we read the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

Our passage today illustrates what happens when one loves the things of the world too much. The rich man is dressed in fine clothes and lives in luxury. He probably does not know the name of the one who lies just outside his door. He treats Lazarus as if Lazarus did not exist. When one allows wealth to become the god that matters, then it becomes a struggle to see past your own wants and desires and pleasures. The focus becomes inward and narrow and selfish. Choosing to live this way does not yield an eternal home with Jesus.

We do not know much about Lazarus either. He was a poor beggar who lived a hard life. He was hungry but received nothing from the rich man’s excess. We can assume that Lazarus was a man of faith because he spends his eternity in a heavenly home. And we know his name. We know his name because Jesus knew his name. Lazarus was a child of God who claimed his place in God’s family. Contrast him to the rich man, who is also a child of God. He did not claim his inheritance though because he was consumed by the things of this world.

The world still operates this way. We know the names and faces of the rich and famous. We see a homeless person on the street and we’d just assume avoid them. Knowing their name is out of the question. Yet God knows their name. Jesus knows their name. And Jesus says to us, “Come and follow me”.

Prayer: God of all, you have eyes and a heart for all. Give me your eyes and heart. Jesus had the hands and feet of a humble servant. Give me those hands and feet. Strengthen me to walk the way of Jesus this day and every day. Amen.


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Human Yet All-Powerful

Reading: John 11: 1-45

Verses 25a and 26 – I am the resurrection and the life… whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

Today’s passage reveals many aspects of who Jesus is.  In each stage of the story, our understanding of Jesus deepens.

In the beginning of the story, we see a Jesus who is intimately connected to human beings.  He did not just dwell here but was connected in human relationships as well.  He is in ministry doing God’s will far away yet these two sisters send for Jesus to come attend to a personal need – their brother and one of Jesus’ close friends is very sick.  These ladies are good friends of Jesus and think nothing of asking Him to drop whatever He is doing to respond to their plea for help.  This connection is again reinforced in verses 35 and 36, where Jesus weeps and those there note how He loved these friends.  Jesus was intimately connected to His good personal friends.

What happens next may at first appear to contradict this.  Jesus does not go right to Bethany.  He stays where He is.  He even reveals after two days that now they can go because Lazarus has died.  Jesus plainly tells the disciples that Lazarus had to die so that all can see Jesus’ glory and can come to believe.  Jesus is acutely aware of the end game.  It must have been hard for the human side of Jesus to allow the grief and pain to come upon His dear friends.  After all, He could have healed Lazarus from afar, from right where He was.  Yet Jesus knew God’s plan and was obedient to it.  Jesus knew that in the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, God’s glory would be revealed and the faith of many would be strengthened and others would come to believe too.  In case this part of the story, we see how Jesus sometimes allows those He loves to walk through the valleys for the purposes of strengthening one’s faith or to help one find faith.  He loves us that much.

As the story unfolds, we see the Jesus who can do anything.  He raises Lazarus from the grave even though he has been dead for four days.  He tells Martha (and us) why: “I am the resurrection and the life… whoever lives and believes in me will never die”.  He is this for us too.  As our journey of faith unfolds, Jesus comes to live more and more in our hearts as our belief in Him grows.  Our human yet all-powerful friend, Jesus, leads us to eternal life as well.  For this great gift of God that we have in Jesus, we say thanks be to God!


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The Rich man, Lazarus, or…

Reading: Luke 16: 19-31

If asked which character we would like to be in today’s reading, there would be a long pause before we answered.  If we look at the end of the story, we all want to be Lazarus.  We would all choose heaven as our eternal destination.  But within the story, do we want to be poor beggars in this life?  When we are really honest, we’d prefer to be both the rich man and Lazarus – the rich man now and Lazarus later.

So we finally settle on being Lazarus?  Or do we settle on being the rich man?  Truth be told, when we look at the model of our faith, at Jesus, we see the middle ground.  Jesus certainly did not pursue wealth yet was definitely content with life.  He did not dress in expensive clothes or eat gourmet food.  But He was not starving and always had a place to live His head at night.  Jesus trusted fully in God alone.  He knew God’s love intimately and fully trusted that God would provide for His every need.

The rich man only truly saw Lazarus when he died.  He finally saw what Jesus sees all the time.  He saw them as they were.  In everyone Jesus saw and encountered, He sought to meet their need.  Sometimes even they did not know their own real need, so Jesus sometimes delved below the surface.  He got to know people that others avoided or shunned.  He entered into their lives and walked alongside them.  He did what the rich man never would have done.

The rich man, Lazarus, or Jesus?  Who do we strive to be more like?  It is an obvious answer but a hard path to walk.  May the power and presence of the Holy Spirit lead us on the path of Jesus, fully trusting in God, loving all of God’s children.


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Martha, Martha… Martha!!

When we first meet Martha in Luke’s gospel she is too busy with the work to come sit at Jesus’ feet.  She is upset with her sister Mary who is ‘just’ sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to him teach.  Are we sometimes like this version of Martha?  Too busy to see wh or what God places before us?  Of worse yet, do we see it yet think we are too busy and rush right past to get to what we think is a more important meeting, event, project, task..?

But sometimes we are the Martha we find in John 11, the story of Lazarus’ resurrection.  Martha comes to Jesus in her grief and acknowledges Him as the Messiah, the Son of God.  She professes that Jesus and God are connected, that God will do whatever Jesus asks.  But I don’t think that Martha is thinking Jesus will resurrect Lazarus at this point.  I think she is making this profession because she knows her faith is what will get her through this difficult loss.  Most of us have been there.  After questioning why God has allowed something to happen, we turn to Him and acknowledge His Lordship in our lives.  Our faith carries us through.  Yet it is a faith that is always there.

At times we display this rock-solid faith displayed by Martha.  We truly know Jesus as Lord of our life.  We acknowledge that all we have and all we are is His.  As we draw near to Easter, when we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death, may we have faith like Martha – fully walking with God, living in that faith that is always there.