pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Ears to Hear

Reading: Acts 2: 14-18

Verse 17: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people”.

For the followers of Jesus Christ, the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was a game changer. After his death and resurrection Jesus appeared for forty days as he continued to teach. Those that had orchestrated Jesus’ death felt pretty good about the outcome. There were some rumors of resurrection and appearing again, but all seems quiet now. The followers themselves are in a wait and see mode. Ten days pass between the ascension and this day that they gather. Life and direction must feel very unsure for them all. And then the promised Holy Spirit comes powerfully and fills them all with the ability to speak God’s word to people from all around the world. By the time Peter finishes the sermon that we read part of today, almost 3,000 people will choose Jesus, showing that his Spirit is indeed alive and well.

Peter begins by quoting from the prophet Joel. Writing about 900 years before Jesus’ birth, Joel prophesies, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people”. It is significant that the Holy Spirit goes out to all people. Traditionally only prophets chosen by God held the power to speak for God. In the course of the Old Testament, there are only 55 prophets. But in the passage from Joel that has been now fulfilled and is quoted by Peter, the Spirit falls on sons and daughters, on young and old, on men and women, and even on servants. All are enlisted in the work of God. The religious leaders of the day would have certainly chafed at this idea and at what happens in the place that the followers are gathered. A large part of why they crucified Jesus was because he threatened their power. They control access to God. And now all sorts of people are being empowered to serve God, sharing the wonders of God in this case.

Understanding that the Holy Spirit is given to all people opens the gates. It means that all have gifts to offer for the building of the kingdom of God. It also means that those outside of the traditional power structures of the church have Holy Spirit voice. It still means that young and old, powerful and powerless, rich and poor, longtime members and those new to the faith, slave and free, black and brown and yellow and tan and white – all have voice. The big question is this: how can we seek to hear from and include all people in our churches and in the larger family of God? May we listen well.

Prayer: Lord, open my ears to all people’s voices. Help me to not only hear the traditional power holders but those on the edges too, for all have gifts to offer. Give me ears to hear, O God. Amen.


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The Light Remains

Reading: Matthew 4: 12-17

Verse 17: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”.

Our passage begins with some news that signals a transition. Two events have already occurred to facilitate this transition. As the voice in the desert continues to preach a baptism of repentance, Jesus is baptized and then spends his time in the wilderness. Both of these events were preparing him to begin his public ministry. As John the Baptist is arrested, there is now space for the one to whom John always pointed. What was is passing on and the new is taking its place.

To begin his ministry, Jesus moves to Galilee, to a town that would be his base for ministry. Capernaum is located on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. This location is a bit removed from Jerusalem and the southern half of Israel. It is adjacent to Samaria. At times it will be a place of refuge for Jesus and his disciples. But as his ministry begins, Jesus announces a different reason for being there. It is according to God’s plan. Quoting from a prophet that spoke 700 years prior, Jesus announces that he has come to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy: he is the light that shines into the darkness.

Just as John had done, Jesus picks up the call to follow God and to walk in his ways. Jesus’ initial theme echoes John’s message. Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”. The focus is now fully on Jesus as the light begins to shine out into the world. In him, the kingdom has drawn near. The Messiah, the Christ has come. The Good Shepherd has arrived to tend the flock of lost sheep.

The light remains with us, continuing to shine light into the darkness in our lives and in the world. Jesus remains present, healing and restoring the broken, reaching out to the lost, guiding us as we walk the narrow way. The Christ, the light, is here. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being my light in the darkness, my hope in times of despair. Thank you for your abiding presence and gentle guidance. Thank you for pulling me back when I drift, for redeeming me when I slip. Ever be my light! Amen.


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When I Fear…

Reading: 1 Kings 19: 1-9a

Verse 3: “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”.

Elijah is threatened by Jezebel, the queen of Israel. He has angered her and she pledges to take his life. Like most of us would do, he assesses the situation and immediately flees. Elijah flees out into the desert and tells God that he has had enough. He just wants to die. Elijah fears dying at Jezebel’s hand, but out in the quiet and peacefulness of the desert would be just fine.

I have a hard time relating to all of Elijah’s decisions. If I were in such a position, threatened by someone powerful, I would flee too. I probably would. But my next thoughts would turn to resolving the issue or doing something about it. I feel like there is a lot of productive life ahead of me. Elijah feels old and tired at this point. Maybe in 30 or 40 years this will be my response too.

When I consider Elijah’s story to this point though, I realize that he has seen the power of God over and over and over. He has just finished seeing God defeat 950 prophets of Baal and of Asherah in a sacrifice showdown. Slaughtering all of these prophets is what draws Jezebel’s threat. In spite of his history with God, Elijah reacts with fear. We read, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”. If anyone should trust God, it’s Elijah. Yet he fears and flees. Instead of turning to God, he fears and flees. Instead of calling on the power that he has seen demonstrated over and over and over, he fears and flees. How like Elijah I am.

What is God’s response when Elijah fears and flees instead of turning and trusting? God meets Elijah where he is at – right in the middle of his very real human emotions. God provides food and water and rest. God gives Elijah what he needs. God does not condemn or judge or scold him. Elijah is accepted as he is and is strengthened for the journey ahead.

What is God’s response when I fear and flee? It is the same. God loves me and cares for me, encouraging me for the journey ahead. May you allow God to do the same for you.

Prayer: Providing God, you never give up on me. In spite if my human weakness and emotions, you pursue me, you find me, you sustain and encourage me. Thank you God. Amen.


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This Anointed King

Reading: Psalm 45: 1-2 and 6-9

Verse 2: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever”.

Today’s Psalm has the description “a wedding song” in the heading. It is a celebration of a royal wedding. Although we only read a handful of the verses that comprise this Psalm, we do get the flavor of the occasion. There is a king and his royal bride, a palace, an anointing, music, and the guest list includes daughters of kings. The clothes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia and are woven with gold. We get quite a picture of what the events looks and feels like.

Depending on who and when this Psalm was read or recited, one might have envisioned David’s royal wedding or perhaps Solomon’s or some other king of Israel. Maybe one’s mind even slips to a more recent royal wedding with all of its pomp and circumstance.

The Psalm can also be read another way. Like the author of Hebrews, we can read this Psalm and envision Jesus as the king. In Hebrews 1, this Psalm is used to point to Jesus. It is one of about 8 Old Testament passages that the author uses to connect the words that “God spoke to our forefathers” to the “words spoken to us by His Son” in the last days. This connection plays well with our modern understandings of the New Testament being the fuller revelation of the Old Testament and of Jesus as the fuller revelation of God.

When read from the perspective of Christ as the King, verse 2 has a whole new meaning. Hear Christ in this verse: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever”. Yes, Jesus is the most excellent example – He who was without sin. And, oh how Jesus’ lips were anointed will grace. The words of healing and forgiveness that Jesus spoke and continues to speak to us today flow with grace. And, yes, Jesus is the one blessed forever. He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. Jesus is forever King.

Lord God, may this anointed King, this King with grace anointed on His lips, may King Jesus reign in our hearts each and every day. Amen.


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Who Is This Jesus?

Reading: John 6: 35 & 41-46

Verse 46: “At this the Jews began to grumble about Him because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven'”.

Jesus has just fed the 5,000 so the idea of Jesus and bread seem to go hand in hand at this moment in His ministry. He has encouraged those who return the next day for more food to look not only for physical bread but also to work for the “food that endures to eternal life”. He offers this “bread” to them if only they will believe. It is at this point that our passage opens today as Jesus says, “I am the bread of life…”

Some of the Jews balk at Jesus’ earlier claim when He said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven”. They cannot rectify this with the Jesus they know. The people here know His parents – Mary and Joseph – and they have known Jesus since childhood. They know where He came from. How can He now make this claim to be from heaven? They see and understand Jesus only on the literal, human level. To them bread is simply bread.

In the interceding verses Jesus makes some other claims. He claims that He is sent by God and that He only does the will of God. Jesus also reiterates that belief in Him is the path to eternal life. Then, in verse 40, Jesus claims that on the last day He will raise up all who believe. None of these claims hit a nerve. They are all beyond where His audience is stuck. The Jews can not or do not or will not move past the birth narrative that they know.

To try and help them connect to something they know, Jesus turns to the Old Testament for reinforcement. He quotes the prophet Isaiah, saying, “Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to Me”. In essence Jesus is saying to look in the scriptures and you will see that they point to Jesus the Messiah. This connection was a stumbling block for many. It continues to be today.

For all believers, we must spend time in our Bibles so that we understand this connection of Old to New. We must be able to articulate how the New Testament is the fuller revelation of the God of the Old Testament. We must be able to explain the continuing story of God’s activity in the world through Jesus. Jesus incarnate is God. Jesus is God’s love lived out in human relationships. Our role as believers is to help the lost to find and understand this truth. May we know the story of Jesus well so that we can share it with others.


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A New Thing

Reading: John 2: 13-22

Verse Fifteen: “He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area.”

Today’s passage is one of those instances where we see Jesus is mad. He creates a big ruckus in the temple by driving out all the merchants who sold animals for sacrifices and the money changers who exchanged coins so that people could pay the temple tax.

Although there was certainly corruption in these two systems, they did help facilitate worship for many of the pilgrims who came to the three yearly festivals. For some pilgrims it was impractical and for others it was just easier to buy a dove or sheep or cow once they arrived at the temple to offer the sacrifice. Many of these pilgrims were from foreign countries and their own coins with earthly images could not be used to pay the temple tax.

So it seems odd at first that Jesus would disrupt something that is helping people to practice their faith. Maybe it was because they were taking advantage of a captive audience. Maybe it was because they were inside the temple courts instead of outside of the sacred space. Maybe it was because the people were simply going through the motions instead of giving up an animal that really meant something to them. Ultimately, though, I think it was because they were continuing a system that must change. Jesus came to be the new system. He came to be the final, perfect sacrifice for all humanity. Jesus came so that people would have faith based on a relationship rather than on the rule-keeping, works-based system that had evolved.

Sometimes in our churches we also hold onto practices and traditions that are antiquated or are not serving their purpose anymore. When change is suggested it is met with resistance and questioning. Yet when we get stuck in some of our ruts, church feels stale, old, dead. It has ceased to be vibrant and life-giving. Yes, some traditions and practices still have great value and are great pieces of how we worship and grow closer to God. But not always. So may we trust into the Holy Spirit and seek the new thing God may be worked in our midst. Amen.


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Repent and…

Reading: Mark 1: 14-18

Verse Fifteen: “The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news”.

Jesus begins His earthly ministry in a similar manner to John the Baptist’s ministry.  Like John, Jesus calls the people to repent and then to accept the good news.  Repentance must come first.  We simply cannot walk with Jesus when we have sin in our lives.  Sin, by its nature, separates us from God.  Repentance requires a change in our lives.  Whatever the sin, it leads us away from God.  So if our desire is to be in a relationship with God, then we must turn away from our sin and resubmit our lives to faithful obedience.

As Jesus entered Galilee, the message He preached was all about repentance.  He said over and over, “The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news”.  This theme continued throughout His ministry.  The woman caught in adultery heard this message as Jesus told her, “Go now and leave your life of sin”.  Zacchaeus pledges a new life as he promises to repay all that he has wronged.  Jesus responds by declaring that salvation has come to Zacchaeus that day.  Over and over Jesus calls us to leave our sin behind and to turn to Him.

Repentance is hard.  It would be easier to skip over this part of the passage.  Repentance requires admitting that we did something wrong, that we faltered.  This requires a certain amount of humility.  Pride and ego can get in the way.  Repentance also requires an honest look into ourselves, a searching if you will, to see the sin in our lives.  And lastly, it requires that we commit to being better, to walking a more holy life, to being more like Jesus.

Jesus sought disciples who were willing to put their old life behind them to come and follow Him.  It required a radical change in direction.  Simon and Andrew heard His call and began a new way of life.  It was risky and full of the unknown.  It required trust.  Repentance can bring us these same feelings as we choose to leave a part of ourselves behind and we are not sure where our new self will go.  Just as Jesus called the first disciples, He calls us as well.  Jesus is still seeking followers who are willing to orient their lives to a new way of living over and over.  The journey of faith never ends as our faith is always growing and developing.  The call involves risk for us too.  Are we willing to risk and to trust in wherever Jesus leads?  After all, the call is to come and follow.