pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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Following Along

In John 12 Jesus parallels our faith with that of a seed.  If a single seed remains sitting on the counter or in the package, then that is all it is.  In a similar way, if we just believe in God then that is all our faith is: just belief.

When the seed is placed in the soil though, it can produce much more.  But in order to produce a crop, the seed itself must die and grow into a plant.  The old is gone and the new goes on to produce a crop.  In a similar way, our old self must be given up so that our new self can grow to live our life for Christ instead of for self.

If we are willing to set aside self and to live for and with Christ, we too can bear much ‘fruit.’  And here too Jesus gives insight.  He tells the disciples and us that whoever serves Him, must follow Him.  Whoever follows must go where He goes.

Here Jesus is calling us past belief.  He is calling us to action: follow, serve, go.  In order to bear fruit in our lives, it requires us to put God and others ahead of ourselves.  This means we cannot ask “Go where?” or “Now?” or “With whom?”  Jesus ministered to anyone, anywhere, anytime.  If we are to follow, we must do the same.

Scripture reference: John 12: 20-26