pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Only in Surrender

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-31

Verse 18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth to address a division that has arisen. On one side of the divide are the Greeks. They love learning and discussing ideas. They look for and prize wisdom above all else. They want to know their way into believing in Jesus Christ. On the other side are the Jews. The Jews look for signs. This is how they had always recognized and identified the power of God at work. Way back the power of God was revealed in the manna and in the wall of Jericho falling down, just to name a couple of examples. More recently it shown as Jesus and the disciples healed and cast out demons. The Jews wanted to be awed into believing in Jesus.

Paul tells both sides that they are wrong. Both the Greeks and the Jews are looking in the wrong place if they want to find the power of Jesus Christ. In our opening verse Paul writes, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”. To the world the cross represents weakness and shame and wrong doing. To the world it was foolishness for Jesus to die on a cross like a common criminal. But the world is perishing. Paul instead reminds the Jews and Greeks that true power is found in the cross. It was on the cross that Jesus demonstrated servanthood and obedience. It was there that he became humble to death as he died to save us all. In his death and resurrection Jesus defeated the powers of sin and death and paved the way for us all to experience “righteousness, holiness, and redemption”.

Just as Jesus was humble, we too must be humble as we approach faith. We cannot think our way into believing. Nor can we argue another into faith. We cannot “genie” our way to believing either. We cannot try and force God to prove he is real. We find faith when we come to the point of kneeling before Jesus, aware of our sin and our need for his grace, humbly asking him to be the Lord of our life. Only when we surrender do we find victory in Christ. It is more of that upside-down kingdom. When we are weak, he is strong. May we walk in surrender to our Lord and Savior today.

Prayer: Loving Father, you took me as I was, broken and filled with so many sins and weaknesses. Just like a potter, you went to work reforming and reshaping me, guiding me to your purposes. I am far from perfect. I beg you to continue to be at work in me. I surrender all to you for your glory. Amen.


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Walking Closer

Reading: Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

Verse 26:14 – “And while they were eating, he said, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me'”.

Jesus has been in ministry for three years. All of the men who sit around the table with him have been with Jesus for those three years – hearing the teachings, seeing the miracles, observing his example. It is hard to imagine any of these twelve men turning on Jesus. They have gathered to celebrate the Passover, an ancient tradition in the Jewish faith. On this sacred night when they remember and celebrate God’s mighty saving acts that led the Israelites to freedom, Jesus will be arrested, tried, and beaten. As they share the Passover meal, Jesus shares these words: “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me”.

It amazes me that Jesus could share this sacred and special time of faith and fellowship with the one who betrayed him. It is hard for me to even see someone who has betrayed me, never mind to sit and share a meal with them. It is hard to be kind and pleasant to one who has turned on me, never mind serving them the bread and cup. In passages like these I see face to face with my reality: I have a long ways to go in my walk with Jesus.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry today, we are on the edge of Holy Week. On Thursday we will again come face to face with this story and then with the crucifixion on Good Friday. Events along this week’s journey will again serve to remind me of my love of Jesus as well as of my areas of needed growth. I can envision what it would look and feel and be like to fellowship with my Judases and to offer them the Lord’s Supper. As I walk the road to Calvary with Jesus this week, may I come nearer to the place of loving those who harm and hurt me and those I love. As I follow in Jesus’ footsteps, may I come one day to walk in them.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for where I am in my journey of faith. I am grateful for my place in your family and for the walk so far. I know I am not what I was, but can also see that I have far to go. Lead and guide me to follow closer and closer, day by day. Amen.


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See the Father

Reading: John 14: 8-17

Verse 9: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”.

When asked questions about my mentors or people who had serious influence on my life, my first thoughts are always my parents. My mom was a teacher and for my first career I taught middle school for 23 years. My dad had a great work ethic and was a planner, an organizer. These traits I have inherited from my dad. Both of my parents had a great influence on my second career as a pastor. My parents both have a big heart for others and a heart for mission and service. As a pastor, the “other” is often a focus of mine, both in the church and in the community. Much of who I am comes from my parents. This idea is the focus of today’s passage.

In our passage today Jesus says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”. In essence Jesus is saying if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God. He goes on to explain that the words He is saying are not His words but God’s words. Jesus also makes clear that the works, the miracles, are because He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. The disciples struggle with this idea. It is not easy to fit this idea into their understandings of God. All these years later we see Jesus as God incarnate, as God in the flesh. We draw these understandings from the birth stories that we have in the gospels. For the disciples, they have known Jesus just a few years. It is one thing to be sent by God – like the prophets. It is another thing to be one with God.

As if this were not enough for the disciples to wrap their heads around, Jesus goes on in verse 12 to say, “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing”. The greatest person they have ever known, their hero, says they will be doing what He has done if only they have faith. Not only that, but “even greater things because I am going to the Father”. Imagine being a follower and hearing all of this.

In our last few verses, Jesus starts to offer the “how” – the explanation. To all who obey Jesus’ commands, to all who love Him, God will send the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus will come to them and dwell in them. Although not fully sure of what this really means, it does begin the explanation for the disciples. Like a good parent, the Holy Spirit will come to lead and guide, to direct and correct, to teach and remind, to strengthen and encourage the followers of Jesus Christ as they grow to become more like Him. This too is our journey and our mission. Through the Holy Spirit, may we become more like Jesus and more like the Father.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for my parents and for all who have poured into me, influencing my walk of faith. Continue to send people into my life that call me closer to you. Thank you also for the Spirit, the presence of Jesus and you in me. May it speak clearly in my life each day. Amen.


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Certainties

Reading: John 10: 22-26

Verse 24: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly”.

The Jews had a clear idea in their minds of who and what the Messiah would be. They were certain that the Messiah would restore Israel to its full glory. Jesus did not match the vision that they were certain of in their heads. But they were so certain of it that they could not see Jesus for who He was – the Messiah. In today’s passage they say to Him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly”.

I too struggle with certainty. At times I have been certain of how God should answer this prayer or open that door or close this one. At times I have been certain of the plan I have made or of the direction I think we should go. At times I have been certain that this action or that thought or those words were justified. In almost all of these cases, my certainty has gotten me in trouble and has melted away before the power of God.

Jesus’ response is sure and is straight forward. Jesus reminds them that He did tell them who He is. His claims of divinity brought anger and words like blasphemy. Jesus also reminds them of the miracles that they have witnessed. It is between two certainties that the Jews are caught. They are certain that God would not come in the flesh like this and they are certain that the miracles reveal divine power. Jesus then connects back to what He was talking about recently. We find this conversation at the beginning of John 10. It is about the shepherd and the sheep. Jesus explained the loving and caring relationship between the shepherd and his sheep. Jesus speaks of being the gate – both into the pen and into eternal life. He also reminds them that He will lay down His life for His sheep. Jesus returns to these ideas in today’s passage. He bluntly tells them “you are not my sheep”. This is why they do not believe even though they have seen the miracles. Their certainty is the barrier that prevents faith in Christ.

My certainty has done this too. Whenever I place my will and my wants before God’s will and His plan, I am trying to live by the ways of man. Over and over I have found that this is not the best path. I find the best path when I listen to the voice of the Shepherd, when I follow the voice I know. I plainly see that Jesus is the Christ. It is by faith alone that I must follow. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the only sure thing. In you alone can I truly trust, in you alone do I find hope and meaning and purpose. Step by step may I walk in faith, trusting you with all that I am. Strengthen me to follow closely. Amen.


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Expect

Reading: John 21: 1-14

Verse 13: “Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish”.

In today’s passage from John, Jesus makes His third appearance. When Jesus arrives about seven of the disciples are out in a boat. They have fished all night and have caught nothing. Jesus stands on the shore and directs them to cast their empty nets on the right side of the boat. Then, once ashore, we read, “Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish”.

If we dig a little deeper, our passage reveals a few important things about Jesus and His relationship with His followers. First, He enters our lives at times unexpected. After a long and unsuccessful night of fishing, suddenly He is there on the shore. At times, Jesus will suddenly appear in our lives. Yes, He is always there. But at times that presence will be more – we can and do experience Jesus in a deeper or more meaningful way from time to time. Expect Jesus always.

The second thing we see is that Jesus is still in the miracle business. The large catch of 153 fish when there had been no fish for hours and hours triggers John to identify Jesus and Peter to leap into the lake. Yes, the risen Christ is still capable of miracles. This is not the answer to our prayers kind of miracle. It reminds the fishermen and it reminds us of just who our Jesus is – one who will surprise us now and then to help us along in our walk of faith. Maybe it will be a door opening to a new opportunity. Maybe it will be a revelation in a scripture or devotional that we are reading. Expect Jesus always.

The third thing we see is that Jesus continues to provide. He physically provides something of value and He spiritually provides for their faith too. The income from the fish will help the new ministry. The fact the Jesus comes and feeds them some bread and fish assures their faith. The risen and resurrected Lord will continue to be there, to care for His followers, to reveal Himself through acts of love. For us, it can be a neighbor or friend bringing something in a time of want or need. It can be that note or text or phone call when we need a little pick up or a little reminder of faith. It can be the Holy Spirit helping us to see with new eyes. Expect Jesus always.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for remaining present, for being there in my life in so many ways. I praise you for the unexpected visits, for the ways you work in and through me, for the love and care you pour into my life. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Remember

Reading: Joshua 5: 9-12

Verse 10: “The Israelites celebrated the Passover”.

After crossing into the Promised Land, the Israelites set up camp. They have just witnessed another miracle. God led the people through once again. Although at “full flood stage”, the people walked across on dry ground. As soon as all had crossed over, the waters returned to flood stage. They built an altar from 12 stones from the river bed to remember this miracle. Then they set up camp and, “the Israelites celebrated the Passover”. This is another remembrance. The yearly festival is a celebration of how God freed them from captivity as slaves in Egypt and led them out of Egypt.

The Passover is a remembrance of all the details of the time when God acted on behalf of His people. This celebration reminds the people of both the power of God and of His love for them. As children of God we too celebrate and remember experiences and moments when God has acted on our behalf. We remember to remind ourselves of God’s love for us. This is why we celebrate Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost… These are powerful movements of God. These reveal God’s love for us. Like the Israelites and Passover, we celebrate these events each and every year. We also have movements of God that we celebrate more frequently. Churches regularly celebrate communion. All of these events that we celebrate remind us of God’s power and of His love for us.

As children of God, we all have personal experiences that also remind us of God’s love and power. Our God is a great God who acts in mighty ways. Some of the time, these are personal. God is involved in the details of our lives. We have moments and experiences when we encounter God in our lives. That night in the balcony at church, that afternoon in the emergency room, that morning atop the mountain, those days in worship. We can all remember times when our God came up close and became intimately personal. We store those away in our hearts and we remember them in our minds.

When were your moments? How has God been up close and personal with you? Take a moment or two to remember and give thanks to the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord, you have been present in many ways. I thank you that over and over, at just the right time, you have come to me in real and personal ways. Continue to do so over and over again. Ever be my God. Amen.


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Standing Firm

Reading: 1 Corinthians 10: 1-13

Verse 12: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall”.

Paul begins today’s passage by reviewing the years after the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. The people were all “under the cloud” – the pillars that were God’s constant presence with the people. They all experienced the miracles of God – the manna and quail, the water from the rock. Even with God’s presence day and night and even with the miracles that all saw, they slipped into sin often. They fell to idol worship, sexual immorality, and they tested God over and over. Paul concludes verses 1 through 10 with the reminder that this history is an example and a warning to them.

As I think back over my years, I think Paul would easily find several examples of times when my story has been similar. There are plenty of times I have chased after the things of this world or have acted in ways much less than pleasing to God. There are ample choices for examples of grumbling at, complaining to, and testing God. In my life are also times when I have felt the tangible presence of God and scores of times when God has guided me or answered prayers or has provided for me or has guided me through a trial. In many ways I am much like the Israelites. If we are honest, these truths – these goods and bads – are a part of all of our journeys of faith.

Paul, in verse 12, gives us this warning: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall”. Satan is ever on the prowl, always looking for the next opportunity to try and lead us astray. If we are not aware of this fact, we are more likely to fall. Then, in verse 13, we find hope.

Paul first reminds us that being tempted is a common thing. We all face temptation. Some of what it is may vary from person to person, but we all face it. And then Paul offers this great line: “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear”. God protects us. Like with the Israelites in the desert, God watches out for us. We, through Jesus Christ, have what it takes to stand firm. Our passage concludes with the reassurance that God will always provide the way out of or the way past temptation. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, when the temptations come, fill me with your Holy Spirit. Remind me of your promises in the Word and of my experiences with you as my savior and rescuer. Help me to stand firm. Amen.