pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Strange Things

Reading: Luke 24: 41-48

Verses 47 and 48: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations… You are witnesses of these things”.

In our passage today the disciples encounter the risen Lord. Even after He shows them His hands and feet they still do not believe. He eats a piece of food in their presence. Surely a ghost would not eat. This very human gesture must have calmed the disciples, because then Jesus begins to teach them. It still amazes me that these closest of Jesus’ friends so struggle to connect what He told them when He was alive to what is happening now. Being scared and frightened does strange things to the mind.

Although none of us lived with Jesus for three years, seeing Him teach and heal and set the example of how to love, we do have many more ways to connect with Jesus than those first disciples had. We have our Bibles. When we wonder about something or have a question, we can turn to the Word and re-read a passage or look something up. We have millions of books and articles at our fingertips, hundreds of which address even the smallest question we could have. We gather weekly for worship where scripture and songs remind us of Jesus and our faith. In worship we also pray and hear the Word proclaimed. Many of us also go to a small group or study group where we go deeper in our faith development or understanding. Yet with all of this even the smallest storm in life can make us ask, “Jesus who”? Being scared and frightened does strange things to the mind.

Jesus meets the disciples in today’s passage right where they are at. He once again reminds them of all that had been written of Him in the scriptures. He showed them how He was the fulfillment of the Law and prophets. He summarized the last few days and then said, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations… You are witnesses of these things”. Jesus gave the disciples new purpose and direction. They were to bear witness.

Jesus seeks to meet us right where we are at. When we are scared and frightened, Jesus calls to us, He calms our hearts and minds. When we are confused and quite cannot remember, He whispers in our ear. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, Jesus remains very much alive. Our purpose and direction remains the same as it was with the disciples: we are witnesses. May we go forth each day, telling the story of repentance and forgiveness of sins.

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Loving and Caring

Reading: Acts 4: 32-35

Verses 33 and 34: “Much grace was upon them all… There were no needy persons among them”.

In the early church the love of God and one another was clearly evident. In the lives of the apostles the power of God was clearly evident. These factors made the church stand out from the larger culture around them. In many ways these things were even counter-cultural. They certainly are today.

There are three outcomes of the presence of God and His love in our text today. The first is the great power that the apostles had to preach the gospel news of Jesus Christ. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the apostles were boldly proclaiming the truth and they were bringing people to faith. The second outcome was the grace that they all had upon them. They were willing to look past faults and small disagreements because they saw the community as more important than the individual. This led to a willingness to sell things to help with the common good. This led to the third outcome: “There were no needy persons among them”. All were loved and cared for.

Does this unity and level of love and care for one another typify churches today? This model is still very possible and I think exists in some of our churches today. When someone loses a loved one they are surrounded with love and care and often food. When someone experiences a tragedy like a house fire they are invited into someone’s home and needs for clothing and other necessities are met. When someone loses a job, assistance is given. We may not sell our home or some land, but there is still much love in a church that makes it stand our from the larger society.

Could our churches be closer to the model we see in Acts? For sure! Let us remember then that the church is still made up of people. So, like each of us on our own journey to become more like Jesus, the church itself is also ever on a journey to become more loving and more caring. The church is only as loving and caring as the individuals that make up said church. That brings us to a question: how am I becoming more loving and caring so that my church becomes more loving and caring?


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My Strength

Reading: Psalm 22

Verse Nineteen: “But you, O Lord, be not far off; O my strength, come quickly to help me”.

Today’s Psalm represents well our lives and our journey of faith. At times we feel like the opening words sum up our life: “my God, why have you forsaken me”? We feel an unbearable amount of pain or a burden we cannot bear and God seems very distant. Like the psalmist, we cry out, but hear only silence. But in the next verses we are reminded of God’s faithfulness as we too recall the previous generations praise of and trust in the Lord. We are reminded that they trusted and we’re never disappointed.

The psalmist continues to recount trials and sufferings that they went through and they intersperse these events with praise for the God who always comes through, is always really there. Most of the time we live out this kind of a faith. God brings us joy and peace and contentment and strength. Most of the time we feel God’s loving and caring presence all around us. Yet we too know that the natural cycles of life will bring pain, regret, disappointment, doubt, … All of us experience these times in life. Even the ‘greats’ of the faith do. Mother Teresa even experienced what she herself called he “dark nights of the soul”, times when the weight of the pain and suffering all around her left her feeling alone and without faith.

In our moments of hurt and doubt, we too cry out as did the psalmist: “But you, O Lord, be not far off; O my strength, come quickly to help me”. We call God in, we want to feel God’s closeness and presence. Through this Psalm we are reminded that through the ups and downs of life and our faith, that God remains ever present and that God is always sufficient. The psalmist expresses this confidence as he writes, “they who seek the Lord will praise Him”. This confidence comes from experience after experience. When we seek the Lord, we will find Him, and that will lead to praise. The psalmist concludes with these words: “They will proclaim His righteousness to a people yet unborn – for He has done it”. God has been, is, and always will be faithful and true. As people of faith may we continue to tell of God’s goodness and love, today and through the generations to come. May it be so. Amen.


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Garments of Salvation

Reading: Isaiah 61:10 to 62:3

Verse 11: “The sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations”.

Ah!!  Christmas Day is here!  It feels as if all were right in the world as our families and homes are filled with love.  Yes, there is still hurt and brokenness and violence out there in the world, but on this day it feels a bit more distant.  On this day we celebrate that love was born and in faith we believe that evil will never defeat Christ’s love.  Ever since that first Christmas Day, Jesus’ love has shone out into the darkness, chasing evil and all its companions away.  Thanks be to God for the love that He sent into the world long ago in that Bethlehem town.

On this day in particular we live into verse eleven:  “The sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations”.  Love springs up all around today in our homes and in our neighborhoods and in our communities.  Righteousness springs up through us and our acts of love and kindness.  This love comes not from us but from God.  Our passage today reminds us that when we rejoice in the Lord, He clothes us in “garments of salvation” and in “robes of righteousness”.  When we proclaim Jesus as King of our lives we rest in the knowledge that this same baby Jesus also died for our sins.  We are sure of our salvation and begin to live righteous lives.  Righteousness and praise do spring up all around as we share the love of Jesus with the world.

It is from this place of salvation that we joyfully join Christ in shining that light our into the world.  From this place we go forth to love the unlovable, to bring comfort and healing to the broken, to let the least know that they are worthy and valued, and to bring hope to those trapped in despair and pain.  We go forth filled with the love of Christ to share this love with a world in need.  Merry Christmas indeed!  Merry Christmas!


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Big

Readings: Psalm 126 and Isaiah 61: 1-4 and 8-11

Key verses: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”. (Psalm 126:5) and “The Spirit of the Lord is on me… to preach… bind up… release… proclaim…” (Isaiah 61:1)

In our Advent study this week we are looking at humility – at having the mind of Christ spoken of in Philippians 2.  One of the men in our Tuesday morning study said humility is thinking less of yourself so that you could think more of others.  Humility is an active practice.  These profound thoughts fit well with the humble servant hood that Jesus modeled and calls us to follow.  Our world is certainly in need of more humble servants.

Both the bigger world out there and many people’s lives are filled with hardship and suffering and trials.  There is plenty of oppression and abuse of power, lots of violence and other senseless actions, many struggling with addictions and unhealthy relationships, and a host of other issues.  Individuals we know face some of these issues as do whole groups in our communities.  There are lots of people in lots of places who would love to live into this verse: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”.

As humble servants of Jesus Christ, we are called to help those in need to do just that.  It is what Jesus did and what He calls us to do.  For all who follow Jesus, we live into the words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”  When we read on, we find the “why” – to preach the good news to the poor, to heal the broken, to bring freedom to the captives, to release prisoners from all that binds them, and to proclaim God’s blessings on all.  These are big words and big ideas.  But guess what?  We serve a big God.  We serve a God who wants to work in and through us – just like He did with Jesus – to see all these things to come to be.

Sometimes we don’t see God big enough.  Sometimes we fail to dream and other times we fail to trust.  Sometimes we doubt.  Into all of this God speaks through the apostle Paul: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  May we serve a big God, trusting that all things are possible when we call on the One who can do all things.  Amen and amen.


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Who?  Who?  Who?

Reading: Matthew 16: 13-16

Verse 15: “But what about you?”, He asked.  “Who do you say I am?”

Jesus asks a question that was probably garnering its fair share of conversations.  The topic may not have been all over Facebook or Twitter or talk radio or the tabloid news, but the question was certainly out there.  In the inner rooms of the Pharisees and other religious leaders they were most certainly discussing who Jesus was.  We can tell from the crowds that came and were often there waiting that the conversation was happening.  Wherever He taught and healed the news proceeded Jesus and talk lingered after He went on to the next town or village.

To the disciples, Jesus asks who people say He is.  They have heard the gossip and the whispers as they have traveled.  Some of the responses are probably a bit out there and others are grounded in their faith story as some name famous prophets.  Maybe the conversation had the tone of one of those videos where a crew hits the street with a microphone and video camera and asks the same Jesus question.  But then it turns serious as Jesus asks, “But what about you?”, He asked.  “Who do you say I am?”.  I imagine the word ‘you’ carried the emphasis as Jesus spoke.

Peter gives the answer.  Perhaps there were a few disciples staring at the ground as they mulled over the question, hoping Jesus did not call on them.  It is a hard question yet a very easy question too.  Peter responds quickly, saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.  Bingo.  There were probably a few disciples happy in that moment for Peter’s tendency to act or speak before thinking.  But he was spot on.

Jesus’ question is one we need to have a ready answer to as well.  And this is where the question can be hard.  For some it will begin with, “Well…. umm…”. But it cannot stay there.  All believers need to be just as ready as Peter was.  We all need to be prepared to share just who Jesus is for us.  If not, we simply appear to know about Jesus instead of really knowing Jesus.  So, who do YOU say Jesus is?  May we each ponder over the question and prepare our own personal response.  May we be prepared to proclaim our faith in Jesus Christ to a world with ears that need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.


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All for Jesus

Reading: Matthew 10: 24-39

Verse 30: Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Couched within this difficult passage are words of love and care.  Jesus has commissioned the twelve to go out in the beginning of Matthew 10 and now He is preparing them.  Jesus is letting them know that it will challenge them but also encouraging them to “proclaim for the roofs” what is whispered in their ears.  We too will be led by the Holy Spirit when we are willing to go out and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the world.  The power and presence of the Holy Spirit will whisper in our ear and give us the words we need to share.

In the middle section of our passage, Jesus emphasizes “do not fear” three times.  He is building them up for service.  He is assuring them that God deeply values them.  Jesus tells them, “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered”.  He is saying God knows them intimately.  God knows us in the same way.  He knows us so well that the small detail of the number of hairs on our head is precisely known by God.  Jesus notes that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing.  So how much more are we in God’s eyes.  He says, do not worry, God has us.

The passage ends with the call to take up the cross.  For those disciples,who have literally seen people take up a cross on the way to their death, this call would have real meaning.  Jesus is asking them to be prepared to give their all.  Knowing what Jesus did on the cross, we too know what He asks of us.  Jesus is asking for our all.  The cost of discipleship can be high today as well.  To walk as Jesus walked, to be like the teacher, is hard.  But with God’s love and care and with the presence of the Holy Spirit, the difficult is made possible.  We are loved by a God who knows us intimately.  With our God all is possible.  As we go forth, being light and love, we go with God and the Spirit, empowered to transform the world.