pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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As One

Reading: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, and 8-10

Verse 1: “All the people assembled as one”.

On the big picture level, God has begun to end the exile in Babylon, bringing His children back home to the Promised Land. They have begun to rebuild Jerusalem, their homes, and the temple. They are also experiencing a spiritual rebuilding. In today’s passage, “all the people assembled as one”. The people come from the towns they have settled in and assemble as one body before the water gate.

Ezra the scribe and priest stands before them and begins to read from the Book of the Law. This process is similar to what we do in our churches. People come to the church on Sunday morning and gather together in the Sanctuary. Once there, they hear a passage or passages read from the Bible. The spirit of being “one” was present in the gathering that we read about in Nehemiah 8. We all hope to have that same spirit in our churches as we gather for worship. This is our hope because it is pleasing to God when we gather as one.

The reading from the Book is what draws people together and helps them feel as if they were one. Faith in God is the common connection. This too is true for us. Our faith is what unites a diverse group of people who gather on Sunday mornings. As the Book is read, the Levites or priests give meaning and instruction and interpretation to the people. This is done in the message or sermon on Sunday mornings. The text is given meaning and application for our lives. In doing so, it builds unity in the body of Christ. Nehemiah sends the people out after worship to celebrate the sacred day. Worship was for the Israelites and is joyful for us. It should be celebrated. May we worship together as one each Sunday morning in our own congregations, “for the joy of the Lord is our strength”.

Prayer: God, build up your church! Draw us together as one to worship you and to learn from your Word. Amen.


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Great High Priest

Reading: Hebrews 4: 12-16

Verse 12: “The word of God is living and active… it judges the thoughts and attitude of the heart”.

Today’s passage is a great two-part message. First, we read that “the word of God is living and active”. Initially this speaks of the words we find in the Bible. The passage we read last year suddenly has new meaning and life as we read it anew this week. The passage that did not seem to have much relevance last week springs back into our mind today, offering application into a situation or decision we face. The living word of God remains ever alive, always able to speak into our lives.

The word is also the Word, Jesus Christ. By extension this is, for us, also the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ words and example and the Holy Spirit’s activity in our life bring not only guidance but also conviction: “it judges the thoughts and attitude of the heart”. Verses 13 and 14 conclude this section reminding us that God sees and knows all – we cannot hide our sins from God. All is “uncovered and laid bare” before the One who will judge us. Being sinful creatures by nature, to this point in our passage it would seem that we are in deep trouble. Not so.

The second half if our passage addresses the realities of the first half. Here we find our truth, our promise, our hope. First, we have a great high priest, Jesus Christ, who sympathizes with our weakness. When Jesus was in the flesh, He felt the temptations we feel. Jesus was without sin, but because of His experience on earth, He can intercede for us before the throne of God. Therefore, we are encouraged to “hold firmly to the faith we profess” because Jesus is on our side.

This second half concludes with our encouragement and our hope: “let us approach the throne of grace with confidence”. We approach the throne of grace, not the throne of judgment or condemnation. The price has been paid. Our great high priest’s work on the cross is finished. The power of sin and death have been defeated. Therefore we approach a throne where we receive “mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. When we are weak, He is strong. When we fail, He offers only mercy and grace, restoring us to righteousness. Thanks be to God for our great high priest, Jesus Christ.

O Lord, today I am reminded of your power and majesty. I am humbled by your love, poured out in mercy and grace. Thank you for the words if truth, for the active and living presence of the Holy Spirit, and for your Son, my great high priest. Strengthen me today for the battle. Walk with me step by step. Amen.


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Spirit of Truth

Reading: John 16: 4b-15

Verse Thirteen: “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth”.

In a lot of ways, our faith journey is much like the disciples’ faith journeys. At some point we too heard Jesus calling us, saying, “Come, follow me”. Maybe right then, maybe a bit later, we accepted the call. As we began to walk through life with Jesus, we too came to a point of saying, like Peter, “You are the Messiah” and we confessed Jesus as the Lord of our life. Then the journey really began.

In today’s passage, Jesus tells the disciples, those who have been with Him for three years, that He has much to share with them – “more than you can now bear”. This is not the first time that Jesus had to meter out a concept or skills to these men. At times, after teaching to a group or crowd, Jesus would have to explain the teaching to the disciples. In other cases, they take in the words, only to get the meaning later. Such was the case when He spoke of His death and resurrection, for example.

We too experience these things. We can read a Bible passage for the tenth time and suddenly God speaks a new truth to us. The other nine times we read it, those same words were there. We just were not open to or ready for that truth yet. Other times we take in the words and then later, in a different setting, suddenly the meaning springs to life. That voice that speaks to us is the same voice that Jesus promised the disciples in today’s passage. In verse thirteen Jesus says, “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth”. The same Holy Spirit reveals new truths and brings life-giving meaning to us as we read or meditate on scripture.

Jesus also speaks of the Holy Spirit convicting the world of its sin. We still experience this gift of the Spirit of truth in our lives. This is part of the guiding us to live in the truth. The Spirit redirects us when we’ve gone astray, convicts us when we sin and when we miss opportunities, reminds us when we forget, teaches us when we don’t quite get it, and nudges us when we need prompting or a push. I am grateful for the gift of the Holy Spirit in my life. Thanks be to God for this gift of constant presence. Amen.


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Delve Deeper

Reading: Matthew 13: 24-30

Verse 24: The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.

Today’s parable immediately follows the parable of the sower with the four soils and the parable’s explanation.  Just as the audience is nodding in approval as they wrap their heads around this teaching, Jesus begins another parable with, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field”.  Yes, God is good so He would sow good seed.  Many would have thought back to the thorny soil in the last parable and connected the thorns with the evil one.  It is a logical connection.  But maybe not.  This is the nature of the parables.  They are intended to make us think, to lead us to delve deeper than the surface understandings, to challenge and push us forward, to pull us up short and to lead us to repentance.

Most folks who walked up as Jesus began the parable would understand the opening scene.  Evil has always existed in our world and evil men do evil things.  In almost all fields,weeds seem to be a constant presence.  And no, I did not plant weeds in my garden; but, yes, there are a lot of them.  So maybe the people there that day just dismissed the weeds as the ‘staff’ of everyday life.  For some, maybe Satan was the planter.  After all, he sows temptations into our lives all the time.

But then comes the twist.  No, don’t pull the weeds.  Let them grow alongside the wheat.  Huh?  The audience with the nodding heads would have become still.  Quizzical faces would have developed.  I imagine a long pause here by Jesus – for full effect.  Today we read the last verse and our mind connects to the judgment that will come.  Weeds to hell, good crop to heaven. Got it!

But do we?  Was or is that Jesus’ meaning?  What else could it mean?  How else could it apply to our lives?  What if the parable is about how we mature in our faith, not removing the sin until our roots are strong enough not to fall right back into it?  Just one of many possible applications!  Think, delve deep, wrestle with the things of God, find meaning for yourself.  God’s blessings on the journey.


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Ears to Hear

Reading: Matthew 13: 1-9

Verses 3 and 9: A farmer went out to sow his seed… He who has ears, let him hear.

The parable of the sower is very familiar.  Most folks who have been Christians very long have read it as they’ve read their Bibles or have heard it discussed in a sermon or small group study.  But what about those who heard it sitting by the lake, directly from Jesus?  For many of them there, the answer is the same as it would be for someone encountering the parable for the first time today.  It is about what Jesus began with: “A farmer went out to sow his seed”.  On this level it kinda makes sense.  Poor soil yields a poor crop and good soil yields a good crop.  But the middle soils and the widely varying yields?

Jesus concludes with, “He who has ears, let him hear”.  The people who are really listening and searching for meaning in the words of Jesus will be able to hear what He is trying to tell them.  Others will only hear His words and walk away shrugging their shoulders.  I think this is one reason Jesus spoke in parables.  It applies today as well.  For those seeking meaning for their faith and application for their lives, there is much to learn from the parables.  But we too must have ears to hear.  A second reason I think Jesus spoke in parables is because they connect earthly things that all people can understand and relate to with heavenly things that require a little more time and effort on our part to fully grasp and then live into.

Sometimes when we read or hear a parable, we too may scratch our heads a bit.  But let us not leave it there.  Go to a commentary or some other resource.  Discuss it with a friend or your pastor or with your small group.  Pray for discernment and guidance.  Every word that Jesus spoke has relevance and meaning for our walk of faith.  Let the one who has ears hear Jesus’ message today.


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Faithful to Minister

Reading: Acts 16: 13-15

When Paul and company arrive in Philippi, they go down to the river because they think it may be a place to pray.  The city has no synagogue or church.  They find some women there praying and they strike up a conversation with them.  God is continuing to guide and lead Paul as he continues to work to spread the gospel.

It turns out these women are praying to God, so they are open to hearing Paul’s witness about Jesus.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul’s words hit home in one of the women’s hearts.  Lydia and her household believe and are baptized into Christ.  This encounter leads her to open her home to these traveling evangelists.  Lydia provides the base of operations from which Paul and companions can continue to share the gospel.

Each day of our lives God and the Holy Spirit lead us to opportunities to share our faith in Jesus Christ with others.  Every day.  It may be that our faithful witness comes simply through how we live our lives.  Those around us experience Jesus simply by being in our company.  At other times we are called to verbally witness to our faith.  One of those who have been observing may finally ask by we are so loving, caring, compassionate…  Or maybe one is finally open to the conversation we have tried to start a few times and God leads us in the witnessing to our faith.

There are many people searching for meaning in and a center for their lives.  God is the only one who can truly fill these needs in us and only He can bring true contentment, peace, understanding, …  Paul’s vision was of a man calling him to Macedonia.  When he arrived, God placed Lydia before him.  Paul was faithful to minister to who God placed before him.  May we too be willing to minister to whomever God places before us and to witness to our faith to any and all that God brings our way.