pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Know Jesus Well

Reading: Luke 21: 5-8

Verse 8: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he'”.

Jesus knows that the end of his time on earth is drawing near. A large part of his ministry has been preparing the disciples to be ready and to be able to carry on the work. Jesus knows that the road will not always be easy. Yes, there will be times when God and the Spirit will do amazing things and the disciples will be filled with awe and wonder. But there will also be persecution and trial and even death. These will be some of the things that will test their faith.

The passage today opens with Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple. Some there that day will surely witness this and will recall Jesus’ words. According to Jewish understanding, God resides in the temple. The disciples equate the destruction of the temple to the end of the world as they know it. But it will not be so. Because he knows this, Jesus goes on to give them a warning.

In verse eight he says, “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he'”. Jesus knows that much will unfold before the new heaven and earth are established. In the interim Jesus also knows that the deceivers pose one of the greatest threats to the disciples and to the early church. The gospel itself is a pretty simple message. The call to follow Jesus is fairly easy to understand. But because we live in a world with many other philosophies and religions and in a world where Satan is at work, being a disciple is challenging. Those that Jesus is speaking to face these same challenges. Jesus tells them, “Do not follow them”. The disciples know Jesus well. If they remain connected to Jesus and to his teachings and example, then they will easily see the deceptions. The same is true for us.

If we will invest in our faith and in our relationship with Jesus Christ, we will know him well. If we are committed to knowing and living out our calling, we will be strong in the faith. Then we too will discern false teaching and will reject the false prophets and the deceivers. May we ever cling to Jesus, the good news, and the example that he lived out for us to follow.

Prayer: Father God, draw me in more and more. Deepen my connection to you. Amidst the storms and trials, may I turn to you alone. Amen.


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A New Earth?

Reading: Isaiah 65: 21-25

Verse 24: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear”.

God’s vision for a new heaven and earth begins with caring for basic needs. The people of God will have houses to live in and food to eat. This leads to enjoying the work of their hands and to a better quality of life. People will live longer and children will not experience misfortune. In Isaiah’s day this vision gave hope to those living without these basics. The realization of this vision would bring hope to many yet today.

Many in our community and likely in yours struggle to meet basic needs. It is currently 7° outside. There are families that are cold this morning because there is no propane in the tank. They are running the oven with the door open for heat. In many pantries and freezers there is food aplenty. Yet many children will go to school hungry. There they will receive breakfast but the adults back home do not. The vision in Isaiah is wonderful. But we cannot be content with waiting for that future reality. It is too distant from many people’s daily reality. In our communities this should not be so. As people of faith, we should not be comfortable with the poverty and inadequacy of food and safe shelter in our midst. Bringing a better version of life for all could be more of our vision.

Father God is casting a vision for all of his children. God promises, “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear”. God is eager to be in connection with us. In my mind’s eye I see God leaning in, hand cupped to ear, waiting to hear our prayers and our praise. The vision we find in Isaiah ends with a beautiful image – all of creation living in harmony and peace. There will be no harm or destroying on God’s holy mountain. This is a reference to the new Jerusalem, the new earth.

Can this not be an image for today, for our communities? Caring for and meeting basic needs begins to build a relationship. The building of a relationship can lead to sharing God’s hope and peace. As people of faith, may we seek to enter the lives of the hurting and broken, first meeting basic needs and then sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to bring hope. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, we have so much and are blessed over and over. Make us aware of and responsive to the needs around us. Bend my heart towards what breaks yours. Lead me to action. Use me to make this place more like Isaiah’s vision. Amen.


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Marching Orders

Reading: Isaiah 65: 17-20

Verse 19: “I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people”.

In today’s reading God lays out a beautiful future. In verse 17 God promises, “I will create new heavens and a new Jerusalem”. To the Israelites, this would be music in their ears. To think of what God could create would bring needed joy and hope and encouragement to the people. Jerusalem, a term representing all of God’s people, will be God’s delight. God says, “I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people”. This vision is a wonderful image to hold in one’s mind and heart.

Today, on Veterans Day, we remember the many men and women who have served our country. Scores upon scores upon scores have served our nation and many gave life for our freedom. The idea of a new Jerusalem ties in. War is a hard thing. War is sometimes necessary. In our nation’s history, war has been fought to make the world a better place. A world without slavery or fascism or genocide or terrorism is a better world. Today we recognize and honor the many men and women who have been a part of making the world and our nation better. I appreciate their service to a nation founded and still guided by faith. The ideal of world peace remains the ideal. I am grateful for those who have served and for those who still serve to protect our nation and this ideal.

In the second half of verse 19 and in verse 20, God fleshes out the picture of a new heaven and earth. There will be no more weeping or crying. Life will be long-lived. God’s vision for what will be is a glimpse of heaven on earth. Today many long for a taste of this vision. This paradise is not a reality for lots of people. Yet for many of us it is a reality. We live in peace with relative abundance. We have both the means and the ability to help others experience more of a new Jerusalem. Whether that involves generously sharing our blessings and talents or guiding them to a faith that brings hope and encouragement in this life, as followers of Jesus we too have our marching orders. Jesus was clear in his call to go to the poor and blind and lonely and lost and broken. The gospel imperative to feed and visit and care for and to teach others about Jesus is clear. May we each joyfully and willingly accept the call of Jesus Christ to be his hands and feet, his light and love in the world.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you first for the many who serve and have served our nation. Bless them and their families, O God. Guide and encourage me to serve you well, bringing your love and hope to all who need it today. Use me as you will. Amen.


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In Mission?

Reading: Haggai 1:15b – 2:5

Verse 5: “This is what I covenanted with you… my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear”.

Haggai the prophet is sent to the people who have returned to Israel and are working to restore the city and the temple. The bulk of the exiles remain in Babylon. The work has been slow and has had plenty of obstacles and challenges. God sends Haggai to Zerubbabel the governor, to Joshua the high priest, and to the remnant – the people who have come back to Jerusalem. God’s purpose in sending Haggai is to encourage, to remind, to recommit them to the task at hand. The temple is not what it once was. Some there now can remember the beauty and splendor and glory of the old temple. What appears to be shaping up pales by comparison.

The situation into which Haggai speaks brings to my mind the current state of affairs in my denomination, the United Methodist Church. Many cannot or will not consider that maybe God is doing a new thing. An equal number believe God is in the process of doing just this thing. One group seeks to hold fast to the Biblical truths that have always been truth. Others believe God is speaking a new word into our time. Both sides have dug in and their agenda has become their focus. What has been sacrificed is the mission of the church: to make disciples for the transformation of the world.

For Zerubbabel and Joshua and the remnant, the voices of doubt and discouragement, the pressures applied by those not wanting to see things rebuilt, the weight of continuing to work for God in the midst of all the turmoil – it led them to a place of resignation and despair. I am sure there were still some that held onto God’s vision of rebuilding, but the majority had lost it. To the majority, God said, “Be strong… I am with you”. The Lord Almighty goes on in verse five to say, “This is what I covenanted with you… my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear”. Through Haggai, God’s message is to be strong, to take courage, and to know that God is present and in control.

The message remains true today. As Christians we are called to follow Jesus as we seek to grow in our faith in him and as we seek to be in mission to the world. Yes, some still visit the jail and others care for those in the care centers. But the majority has lost the focus on mission. The eyes and hearts are largely turned inward. The mission of the Christian church universal remains the same that it always has been: to make disciples for the transformation of the world. This was Jesus’ driving focus. May it be ours as well.

Prayer: God of heaven and earth, when I too get sucked down by all that surrounds the church, pour your strength and courage upon me. Remind me over and over that you are in control. Lead me to step where you guide as I seek to live in mission to the church and to the community. Use me today O God. Amen.


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His Everlasting Kingdom

Reading: Daniel 7: 1-3 and 15-18

Verse 18: “The saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever”.

Today we turn to Daniel and to his vision. Starting in chapter seven it is Daniel who receives the dreams and visions. Up to this point he has interpreted other people’s dreams and visions. In this vision Daniel sees four winds that churn up the sea. Then four beasts rise up out of the tumultuous sea. In a reversal of situations, Daniel must ask another to interpret his vision. He is told that the four beasts represent kingdoms that will rise to rule the world. In verses four through fourteen we learn that each beast has its turn ruling, each a little more violent than the one before it. But then “one like a son of man” comes and is given all authority and power. All peoples that come to him worship him and become part of his everlasting kingdom.

In this vision there is both hope and despair. Daniel learns that yes, one day God will make all things right as Jesus comes to reign. But until then there will be much tumult and war and hardship. We long for Jesus to return as we look at our world today. We too are like each previous generation that looks at the world and wonders if it could get any worse. “Things are not what they used to be” is the cry of each passing generation. And yet each day new life blooms.

In the midst of our lives and in the world around us we see Jesus continuing to be at work. Jesus continues to transform lives, to redeem broken people and broken situations, to work in people’s hearts and minds. There is still much hope in my world. The faithful continue to love God and neighbor. Followers of Jesus Christ still seek to be light and love in the world. Believers yet walk out their faith in the world, drawing others into relationship with Christ.

Our passage from Daniel closes with “the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever”. Those saints that have come to the end of their earthly journey, those long past and those in our generation, join Jesus Christ in his everlasting kingdom. This too is our hope. As faithful disciples we too await the day when Jesus reigns. With the saints we say come Lord Jesus, come! Until that day we walk as committed followers, walking in the way of Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, I again thank you for the saints who have come before and who have helped my walk of faith. Keep my walk true to you and your call to make disciples of all nations and peoples. Draw me each day closer to you. Amen.


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Merciful God

Reading: Psalm 65: 1-4

Verse 3: “When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions”.

The psalmist begins be speaking in the future tense. Praise awaits… vows will be fulfilled… all will come to God… It seems as if the psalmist recognizes either a future aspect of culminating their relationship with God or perhaps a time or season when the people are distant from God. Then, in the last verse of our passage for today, the psalmist reminds the people and us of the blessings of life with God. These blessings are spiritual – the hope, joy, peace… found from being in the presence of God.

In the middle of our passage, in verse three, we find a call to confession. We too are called to confess and repent, but sometimes that is a hard thing to do. Our pride and our self-sufficient attitude can get in the way. Our rationalizations and excuse making can also hinder the process. Because of these human limitations, our communion with God can be fake or superficial or shallow. We sort of want to be honest and transparent with God but our fleshy desires and human weakness keep us from making a full commitment to our relationship with God. In this partially disobedient state we do not experience all of God’s blessings.

At times we need help to come fully into God’s presence. For me, this happens most during Holy Communion. In this sacrament we come face to face with both the reality of the cross and with the overwhelming love and grace of God. In the invitation we are reminded of our need to confess and repent. Knowing that we are going to take in the elements that remind us of the body broken and the blood shed brings us near to God, to a place where confession and repentance flow. To kneel and to pour it all out before God, to feel the sins and weight fall away, to be made new again – this is one of the blessings we find in the presence of God!

Like the psalmist and the people he writes to, we too can be overwhelmed by our sins. Temptation sometimes gets the best of us. And like the psalmist, from those moments of confession and repentance we too know, “you forgave our transgressions”. This is God’s promise to us. When we come and seek to be made right by God, mercy and grace and forgiveness are always offered by the Lord our God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Merciful God, thank you for always hearing me when I come in humble confession, seeking to have a repentant heart, to walk a better walk with you. Your mercy pours out over me and your love makes me new. Thank you God! Amen.


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The Embodiment

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”.

God is a God of perfect love. Through that perfect love we are forgiven and made new over and over again. We, humanity, are far from perfect. We struggle to always be faithful to God, breaking our relationship with God again and again. If we were involved in a relationship with a person that displayed these same dynamics, the relationship would end quickly. Thankfully, God is the God of perfect love.

In our reading from Jeremiah, God promises Israel that a new covenant is coming. A covenant is an absolute agreement. A covenant says I will keep my side of the agreement no matter what you do or do not do with your side. In the old covenant God said ‘I’ll love Israel whatever they do or do not do’. The nation of Israel pledged faithful obedience and love to God. At times the Israelites generally kept the covenant, but this was not their norm. Yet God still loved them and remained their God. A time came, however, when something new must come about. At the time of Jeremiah 31, the new birth was about 600 years away.

The new covenant will be different. In verse 32 God reveals that the new will not be like the old. In the new covenant God declares, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”. The new will not be based on just the words on stone tablets or on scroll after scroll of parchment. Instead, it will first be lived out amongst humanity. Then, looking at Jesus, one will see what obedience to God looks like. Through Jesus’ example people will know what the intent of all the laws are: to love God with all that one is and to love neighbor just as Jesus loved us. But we do not just have an example. Believers in Jesus Christ also receive a deposit, a gift: the Holy Spirit. The embodiment of God’s laws and ways and love comes to reside in each of us. In verse 33, again God says, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”. God does so with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God!!

Prayer: Loving and forgiving God, I do not know where I would be without the presence of the Holy Spirit. Yes, I read and meditate on your word. I pray daily and worship regularly. But the whisper or the nudge is that first line of defense – leading, guiding, correcting, convicting. Thank you for this awesome gift! Amen.