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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Come, See, Worship

Reading: Matthew 2: 1-12

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

Coming from afar the Magi travel to find the source of the star’s appearing. We do not know a lot about the Magi but we do know they have a connection to the divine. We can assume things about them, but we do know that God drew them to Jesus and that they brought gifts and worshiped him. To me, the wise men are a bit like the first disciples. Instead of fishing by a lake, they are back home studying the skies. Suddenly they hear God’s call to come and see – and they do!

Our encounters with God and on God’s behalf most often come to us in this way too. Our normal day turns into something extraordinary when God drops into our lives. The Holy Spirit nudges or whispers and we find ourselves right in the middle of God’s work in the world – if we are brave enough to go when God says come and see. Evil may try to derail what is happening – like with Herod and the Magi – but if we stand firm in our faith and keep our ear and heart tuned to the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit, we too will be just fine. It is when we listen to the voices and are distracted by the bright shiny objects that we wander off instead of following the light of the world.

Like the Magi with that star, if we follow Jesus then we too will be blessed. In those God moments we will see Jesus in others and will know that God has touched our lives once again. And like the Magi, we will worship and give our praise to God. May it be so. Merry Christmas!

Prayer: Father God, the Magi traveled far, to an unknown end, seeking to answer your call. Make me as willing. Amen.


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The Savior Has Come!

Reading: Luke 2: 1-20

Verse 10: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people”.

Mary and Joseph have made the three day journey. They have arrived and found Bethlehem crowded. Many are the ancestors of David. Someone is kind enough to give them a roof over their heads – in a stable with the animals. They come to this point with the knowledge of whom Mary bears in her womb largely a secret. They have only told Elizabeth. It is quite the secret to keep, to hold onto. He is born, wrapped in clothes, and placed in a manger – the feeding trough for some of the animals. Perhaps they wonder, “Did anyone even notice the baby was born”?

Meanwhile, out in the fields that night, some unsuspecting shepherds tend the flocks. Then the news of what has happened in Bethlehem bursts onto the scene. An angel of the Lord appears and says, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people”. Good news of great joy. Hope has come into the world. Peace has come into the world. Love has come into the world. Joy has come into the world. It is good news for all people. Not just for the Jews. Not just for the people living in Palestine. Good news for all people. And just what is this good news? “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord”. There could be no better news for a broken and sinful world.

The shepherds go and find the baby Jesus. They tell Mary and Joseph all about the angels. Mary treasures this news in her heart. The world is beginning to know. The Savior has come! Praise God!

Prayer: Lord God, ever that first night the news began to spread. It has been spreading ever since. Use me to continue the spreading of the good news. May it be so. Amen.


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Listen and Obey

Reading: Matthew 1: 18-25

Verse 20: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”.

In Joseph’s day the Holy Spirit was not quite as prevalent as it is today. The gift of the Holy Spirit had not yet been given to all believers and faith for the average Jew was connected to the temple. Angels were the primary heavenly bearers of God’s voice. It was an angel that visited Zechariah and then Mary. It is an angel that comes to Joseph in his dream.

Joseph must have loved Mary deeply. Going to bed this night he has received news that he cannot quite live with. The woman he loves, the woman he is engaged to marry, is with child and he is sure that he did not have anything to do with the pregnancy. He decides to end the engagement quietly, keeping Mary from any public disgrace and from the many ramifications that would come with an unwed birth. In doing so, he risks exposing himself. It is a risk he is willing to take for Mary, his beloved.

In the angelic dream Joseph learns that Mary is bearing a child conceived by the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that went out over the waters at the creation of the world has formed the child in Mary’s womb. He also learns that the child will be the Savior, fulfilling the ancient prophecy from Isaiah 7. Knowing all this, Joseph awakes with a resolve to be a part of God’s plan.

What strikes me is how “matter of fact” Joseph is – no doubt, no questioning, no hesitancy. He steps into God’s plan most effortlessly. What would our lives look like if we stepped into the guidance of the Holy Spirit so effortlessly, without any hesitation…? What would our world look like?

God spoke to Joseph, he listened and obeyed. God speaks to us all the time too. May we listen and obey.

Prayer: God of heaven and earth, how often you speak to me through your word, through the Holy Spirit, through fellow believers. I hear you often. This day and every day, make me more and more like Joseph, listening and obeying. May it be so. Amen.


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Merciful Forever

Reading: Luke 1: 46-55

Verses 48-49: “All generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me”.

Mary’s song is so full of joy and faith. The opening line, “my soul glorifies the Lord”, sets the tone for the rest of the song. Mary is both elated and humbled that God has chosen her for this special task. As she sings “All generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me” she shows that she understands the magnitude of what is happening. As the song unfolds she shares God’s character from the point of view that comes from the bottom looking up. Mary feels blessed to be a part of God’s family.

As Jesus’ life would unfold, and especially in its culmination, I wonder if Mary would continue to sing the same song. Would she still sing this song as a teenage Jesus claimed the temple as his true home and later as he said his real family were those who were a part of his ministry? Would the song’s words echo in her mind as she stood in the courtyard and then at the foot of the cross? I think Mary would still sing this song even then.

Mary’s words about God would be lived out by her son. Jesus would give mercy and offer mighty deeds as a witness to God’s love and power. Jesus would scatter the proud and lift up the humble. He would feed the hungry… Mary understood her role in all of this coming to be. She also would grow to understand who and what Jesus was. Mary would know that the cross was the only way that her son could be the Savior of the world. It is the way that Jesus would be “merciful to Abraham’s descendants forever”. As one of those descendants, I say thanks be to God his mercy.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of Jesus. In him you were more fully revealed. Most of all, thank you for being willing to die for my life. What a wonderful gift. Your love never ceases to amaze me. I praise your holy name! Amen.


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Lifting and Filling?

Reading: Luke 1: 47-55

Verses 52-53: “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”.

On Monday one of the members of the church stopped in to the office. We chatted for a little while. Part of the conversation was about context. She was curious about how the Bible can be so applicable thousands of years later. How we read a passage or interpret or even apply it can vary greatly over the ages and even within our own personal faith. On a personal level, for example, a passage can say something totally different to me today compared to when I read it ten years ago. The physical letters on the page have not changed at all. The context in which I read them has changed. Similarly, in applying the text, an illustration I use in a rural, small town congregation would not make sense in an urban setting and vice versa. And that context might affect how a hearer applies the message and passage to their life and faith.

In our passage today, Mary responds to God in a song. She has learned that she will be the mother of the Messiah, of the Savior of the world. Mary is a young teenage girl from a very poor family. She is engaged but not married. This is her context as she receives this news from God. Because of her context, she recognizes that this is all on God. She is powerless and must rely on God. In an outpouring of faith, Mary recognizes that God “has done great things for me” and that God’s mercy “extends to those who fear him”. God chose Mary because of her faith and because of her context. Mary goes on to sing, “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”. Mary connects to her context. She is humble. She is hungry. God has lifted her up and filled her with an amazingly good thing – Jesus.

God had and has always used the unlikely, the weak, the poor, the powerless. Mary is but one example of many. She recognizes this. Story after story in the Bible is about God using people like Mary to bring care to the poor, the marginalized… Jesus’ ministry was very much about and with this demographic of society. In fact, when Jesus speaks of who will inherit eternal life in Matthew 25, it is those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner who are identified as righteous and as those who will be welcomed into heaven. As we think about our personal ministries and about the ministries of our churches, do we join God in lifting up and filling our fellow children of God?

Prayer: God of all, your love is certainly not limited to just the poor or just to the rich, to just those in the church or to those outside the church. You are the God of all who loves all. Yet not all have access to that love. Many do not know of your love. Some even feel outside of or unworthy of your love. Help all of that to change. Each day, O Lord, use me as you will. Use me as you desire. To the mighty or to the low, in the halls of power or in the poorest neighborhood, use me today, O God. 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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Love Extravagantly

Reading: John 12:1-11

Verse 3: “Mary took an expensive perfume, she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair”.

It was quite an extravagant thing that Mary did. She took what was likely the most valuable thing she had and she poured it on Jesus’ feet. In a way it is hard to imagine. It is hard for me to imagine giving away one of my most prized possessions in such a way. From the reactions of the disciples that we find in the other gospel accounts, we see that they too are taken aback by the gift. In Matthew we read that “they were indignant” and in Mark we read that “they rebuked her”. Perhaps we would have felt the same. Maybe part of the shock was that it was always Jesus who gave to others. Here someone is ministering to Jesus.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of such a gift? Have you ever been amazed by the extravagance or radical generosity of another? For me, such experiences have usually been gifts of time or presence. After a tragedy that I experienced in college, my former youth pastor opened his door and his heart to me over and over and walked with me through the grieving process. Looking back, I am not sure where I’d have been without Gil. Perhaps that is how Jesus looks at Mary’s gift too. He did not get stuck on the cash value but instead saw how Mary lovingly gave the very best she could. As Jesus would face the angry crowd and Pilate and Herod and the beating and the cross, here was one who did not abandon Him. She remained present. Her love did not waver. In love, she offered the best she could. Perhaps, in all that Jesus faced during His last week, perhaps His thoughts went back to this moment when someone lovingly served Him. Maybe this radical demonstration of love helped Jesus through.

For the last three Sundays, during the message I have asked the same question of the congregation: “What are we willing to do for Jesus”? It has been asked within the context of the Lenten sermon series. Each Sunday we’ve looked at how God moves first in us to draw us closer and then at how God seeks to move us out into the world. Mary’s gift was spontaneous but also led by the Spirit. She sensed time was short and offered all she could. In that small moment, she did not count the cost or worry about what others thought. She simply acted with selfless love. As we live out our week, may we too be open to the Spirit moving in and through us to offer ourselves extravagantly in love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to the world around me and grant me a heart that feels as you feel. Make me a willing servant this week as I seek to live out your love. Amen.


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Opportunities

Reading: John 12:1-8

Verse 3: “Mary took… expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair”.

Mary offered an extraordinary gift to Jesus in our passage today. Mary, being open to the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit, offers Jesus a gift. We read, “Mary took… expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair”. We know from Judas’ objections that this perfume was costly – worth 300 denarii or a year’s wages. While the value of the offering is significant, the personal nature of the gift is much greater. It is a beautiful scene of one follower giving her all for Jesus her Lord. To kneel and wipe Jesus’ feet with her hair is an act of humble and loving servanthood.

As we also read, Mary is helping to prepare Jesus for burial. Mary senses that Jesus is making His final stop at their house as He heads to Jerusalem for the last time. In her offering, Mary is joining Jesus on His journey.

We too will find ourselves in places and in moments where we have the opportunity to give generously to another. Our gift need not be worth a year’s wages although it could be if led and guided by the Holy Spirit. For some, such a gift is possible. Ultimately, though, the gift does not have to be valuable by worldly standards. What really matters is what is behind the gift. Mary’s gift came out of her love for Jesus as Lord and Savior. The gift would have been just as significant if it were inexpensive perfume. When we see a need or are led by the Holy Spirit to give generously and graciously and sacrificially and from the heart, our gift can be extraordinary too. A relatively small financial gift or the gift of our presence or the time we help out physically in a time of need – these offerings or gifts can make “all the difference in the world” to the person or persons impacted.

When we find ourselves in those opportunities, when led and guided by the Holy Spirit, may we too give all we can for the building of the kingdom here and in the future.

Prayer: Generous Lord, may your Spirit ever guide me to be loving and kind and giving to all I meet. Whether by my physical hands and feet or by my presence or by my monetary giving, make me responsive to the needs I encounter. May it be so. Amen.