pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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True Servants

Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Verse 6: “I will also make you a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”.

Isaiah’s servant song, when read through our New Testament lens, sounds like Jesus. Called long before he was physically born, sword in mouth that cuts through all religious airs and gets to the heart of loving God fully. A polished arrow that surely hits the mark, convicting us of our sin every time. As the servant did, at times Jesus felt as if laboring in vain. More than once he laments over the rejection and hard hearts; more than once he critiques the disciples lack of understanding. He realizes the outcome as described by Isaiah: “my reward is with God”. Jesus returns to the Father to reign forever.

In verse six God pries open the circle a bit. It is not enough for Jesus to go just to the Israelites. In the second half of this verse we read, “I will also make you a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”. In comparison to the world, at that time Israel was small. God’s chosen people were a small segment of humanity. To go to the “ends of the world” was a radical shift in the mission field. Much of the Old Testament law functioned as a means of keeping Israel set apart from the outside world. God also directed some measures early on to insure this. Research the conquest of the Promised Land if you want to know more about this. By Jesus’ day the religious establishment defended itself fiercely. There is no shortage of Jesus clashing with religious leaders concerning the size of his circle – the degree to which he would engage and love the “other”. Eat with sinners?! Allow a prostitute to touch you?! Yes, the religious powers wanted to keep the circle drawn in very tight. Verse seven references all of this: “despised and abhorred by the nation”.

In our Christian life we are called to mirror this opening up of the circle. After being drawn into a relationship with Jesus Christ, we are called to die to self. This act ceases our circle of one as we are led to think of others and their needs before considering our own. We are also called to pick up our cross and to follow Jesus. This means we will do as our example did, suffering for others. These things are what a true servant does. On our journey, we too will be despised when we follow Jesus closely. Jesus is not of the world. He is foolishness to all who live for self and for the things of the world. The servant came for all. One day kings and princes will kneel. May this be our posture every day.

Prayer: Father of all nations and all people, guide me today to love as widely and unconditionally as the model did. Through my words and actions, whatever is needed, may I be a light in the darkness of the world. In humility and submission I kneel before your throne, asking for you to use me as you will today. Amen.


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Called to Respond

Reading: Matthew 2: 13-23

Verse 13: “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt”.

Jesus is born in a humble setting and receives some humble visitors – the shepherds who had been visited by the angel. Some time passes and the Magi arrive. They are well-educated men from the east, coming to worship the newborn. Along their journey Herod becomes aware of the new ruler. Power and authority have entered the story. Herod pretends to want to worship the one born in Bethlehem.

The Magi are warned in a dream and avoid Herod on their return trip. Our passage today begins with Joseph having another dream. The angel tells him, “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt”. God is acting to get Joseph and family out ahead of the coming storm. Right then, during the night, Joseph wakes his family and they flee to Egypt. In a fury over being tricked by the Magi, Herod has all the boys two and under living in and around Bethlehem killed. He does not want this newborn king to disrupt his reign. In the aftermath, there is the “weeping and mourning” of mothers refusing to be comforted.

After Herod dies the family slips back into Israel, settling in small and out of the way Nazareth. Joseph still fears what the new ruler, Herod’s son, might do. Archelaus is part of the same institution that Herod was part of. The same tendency to look out for oneself is probably still quite strong. Sadly, this remains true of many institutions and of the people of power within these institutions. We see it alive and well in businesses, in government, and often in churches. People with power continue to exert their will because they believe their way is the right way or the only way. Those hurt, like the mothers weeping in Ramah, are not of their concern. Greed and pride and arrogance drive these types of decisions in business and government. In churches, to these we add confused religious certainty to the mix. Toxic environments are created for all but the holders of power. They were already there.

In the story of Jesus’ life, the escape to Egypt and the accompanying slaughter of innocents is one of the sadder and violent chapters. Jesus will go on to challenge some in power – particularly those in the religious institution – showing that power is not always right. This too is our call. We are called to respond to the injustices and wrongs that we see, shining God’s light and love into the darkness. In the light, injustices and wrongs and abuses of power will be revealed for what they are. May it ever be so as we work our way through building God’s kingdom here on earth!

Prayer: God of light, shine into the dark and broken parts of my life and my world. Lead me to stand for you and for what is right, regardless of the price. Strengthen me for the road ahead. Amen.


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Grace and Peace

Reading: Romans 1: 1-7

Verse 7: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ”.

The letter to the Romans opens with a greeting. After establishing the authorship, Paul ends the greeting with words of grace and peace. Living within a pagan culture that brought persecution and oppression, having grace and peace were essential. One could argue the culture around the early Christians was “religious”. They worshipped the Caesar as a god and their homes and other places were filled with hundreds of idols. But no matter how grand the worship, no matter how volumnous the sacrifices, no matter how lengthy the prayer, these small gods never brought grace or peace. Strangely, many still practice a similar religion today. They have only replaced Caesar and little figurines with self and possessions and titles and hundreds of other things.

As an apostle, Paul’s “job” was to “call people from among all Gentiles to the obedience that comes through faith”. His job was to connect people to Jesus. Unlike Caesar, who only had earthly human power, and unlike the inanimate idols, who had absolutely no power, Jesus Christ had unlimited power and had life everlasting to offer. One can actually enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and can experience the indwelling of his presence, leading and guiding ones life. It is through this relationship and the claiming of God’s promises fulfilled in Christ that one finds the grace and peace that Paul is extending to the Roman congregation.

Just as it was then, so it is with us. In the world and its things, there is no grace or peace. It is only in and through Jesus Christ that we find lasting grace and true peace. In the darkness of the world, there is much need for grace and peace. This Advent season may we be people who also seek to share Jesus Christ with a world in need.

Prayer: Lord of all, I cannot imagine how deep a hole I would be in without your grace. I cannot fathom how I would get through those days without your peace. You are the greatest gift and the surest love. Lead and guide me to share you with others today. Amen.


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Living as an Example

Reading: 1st Timothy 1: 12-17

Verse 15: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”.

Earlier on in life Paul was known as Saul. Saul excelled at being religious. As a boy he showed great promise in school (which was studying the scriptures). He quickly worked his way up the religious leaders ladder, becoming a Pharisee at a young age. He was full of confidence in his knowledge of God and the Law. Saul was arrogant and prideful. As the early church began to grow, it became Saul’s personal mission to stomp it out. He watched with approval as Stephen was stoned to death. Saul set out from there to persecute and arrest and kill as many followers of Jesus as he could. He refers to all of this in verse thirteen.

I’d like to say I used to be able to relate to Saul. My pride and arrogance are still things I wrestle with. It is sometimes a struggle to keep God #1. My need or desire to be in control occasionally makes it hard to let go of the steering wheel. I can see my path and head off without ever consulting God. Falling into gossip and being judgmental comes too easily. I require redirection often. The Holy Spirit keeps busy with me. Yes, I often need God to pour out abundant grace on my life. More often than I’d like to admit. There is that pride again. Every now and then, I too feel like the worst of sinners. I wonder, ‘how can a pastor have so much doubt’? Or worry or fear or confusion or unbelief or lack of trust…

In these moments, the Holy Spirit always reminds me: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. Ah yes, even for me. Even for me! Through his mercy and saving grace the Lord Jesus redeems me and sets me back on the right path, back on the road that follows him. I cannot forget the ‘why’. Paul writes,”so that in me… Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe”. This is evangelism 101. By living as an example of Christ, others come to know him. May it be so today.

Prayer: God, may my grateful response to your mercy and grace be service to you, my Lord. In and through me may others experience Jesus today, so that they too might come to believe in the King immortal, invisible, and eternal. Amen.


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Heaven Rejoices

Reading: Luke 15: 1-10

Verse 10: “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents”.

The religious leaders are critical of Jesus for eating with sinners. His response is to tell two stories that let the religious leaders know that living out one’s faith is sometimes about living with the sinners. It is quite a contrast in their understandings of how faith works itself out. The Pharisees and other religious leaders think it is all about ministry to those already inside the four walls of the temple – to those just like them. Jesus was also about going outside the walls and ministering to the lost so that they could come inside the walls and could learn to be like him. These are radically different approaches.

Both stories that Jesus shares end in rejoicing. He illustrates the joy we experience when something that was lost is found. We have all experienced this in our lives. Whether it is car keys or that important letter or our purse or wallet or our phone… we all know that smile and good feeling that comes when we find that lost item. The shepherd feels it and the woman with the coin feels it. Heaven also feels it. In verse ten we read, “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents”. Verse seven is very similar: much rejoicing. How much more important to recover a lost soul than a set of car keys or whatever! Imagine for a moment what those celebrations in heaven look and feel like.

Yes, heaven is joyful when the church gathers for worship. Yes, there are probably knowing smiles, nods, high fives… when we kneel to pray or when we crack open our Bibles. I am sure that our practices of the faith are pleasing in God’s sight. But the living out of our faith cannot just be within the walls of our churches or just within our hearts. We must also practice what Jesus teaches in these two stories. Like him, we too need to seek the lost, to talk with them, to eat with them, to walk with them. We need to help them find a connection to the Good Shepherd. We are called to GO and to make disciples. Can we also make heaven rejoice today over one sinner who repents and turns to God?

Prayer: Lord, we are told that the harvest is ready, that the fields are ripe. Many people today are lost and are seeking that which is missing in their lives. Others are struggling with sin. Help me to reach out today to the lost and the broken. Amen.


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Joyful Praise

Reading: Luke 19: 28-40

Verse 40: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”.

The parade that we observe today began with Jesus’ disciples singing joyfully as the approached Jerusalem. As His followers participated in a somewhat impromptu gathering, they did what Jews often did when approaching or ascending into the city: they sang a Psalm. The followers of Jesus were singing from Psalm 118 on this joyous occasion. Verse 26 reads, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. It has been implied that as the disciples neared the city, others joined in the singing and in the parade. Note the words in verse 38 from our text for today. It reads, “Blessed is the king who comes…”. It is a subtle but important shift.

In general, the Romans allowed the Jews to practice their religion. They were allowed to hold the three major festivals each year even though they drew large crowds. Large crowds meant possible rebellion so the Romans tended to be on edge during the festivals. Passover was approaching so the population of Jerusalem would be starting to swell. As long as the religious leaders kept the crowds under control, the Romans tolerated the festivals and regular practices of worship and sacrifice. Being able to keep things under control was essential to the religious leaders keeping their positions. Thus, as the crowd built, waving palms, singing, laying down a royal carpet with their cloaks, the use of the word “king” aroused the religious leaders. They asked Jesus to quiet the crowd. Jesus chooses not to. Instead, Jesus says, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”. It is a reference to how all of creation glorifies the Creator. It is a way to claim who He was without crossing too far over the religious leader’s line.

Today, on Palm Sunday, we too may get caught up with the crowd. There will be lots of smiles and some joyous singing in churches this morning as the palms are paraded around. That joy is good for us in two ways. First, it connects us to our King, to our creator, to our sustainer, to our redeemer, through joyful praise. It is good and right to praise the Lord. Second, we need some joy as we step off into Holy Week. The joy of today reminds us of the joy that comes in a week, on Easter or Resurrection Sunday. It is important to remember that in the end, we are Easter people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, like the stones, may I cry out. May I join the crowd this week in joyful praise of you, my King. Sustain me with that joy as I walk through Holy Week, bringing me at last to Easter Sunday. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Blessed Is He

Reading: Luke 19: 28-40

Verse 38: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”.

In today’s passage we remember the triumphal entry. The people line the road leading into Jerusalem, praising God and shouting in loud voices, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”. This line connects back to Psalm 118, which we read earlier this week. This is just one more connection back to the Old Testament. This connection reminds them of the glorious days when King David ruled the land. But the last few hundred years have been hard. For about 400 years there had been no prophet. The people long for the Messiah who will come and restore Israel’s greatness. The donkey instead of a great white horse, the rag-tag disciples instead of an army – these facts did not dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm. The disciples and the crowd “began to joyfully praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen”. In this they hope that Jesus will turn into their kind of king. He will not. It will not be so.

The path to get to the triumphal entry reveals something important about Jesus. Jesus instructs two disciples to go on ahead to get a young colt for Him to ride. The scene unfolds exactly as Jesus had said it would. Jesus knows how this last week will play out. And He still goes forward, drawing closer to His ultimate purpose.

At the end of our passage is yet another clash with the religious authorities. They ask Jesus to quiet the crowd. They are not caught up in the crowd, in the emotion. They fear the joyful parade might draw the attention of the Romans. That would not be a good thing. Jesus responds by saying that if the crowd were quiet, then “the stones would cry out”. He is implying that nature itself recognizes who is entering the city. There is also an implication here that the religious leaders are still missing out, still not understanding who Jesus really is. Their hearts are hard.

In the next verses Jesus goes on to weep over the city, to lament what is now “hidden from their eyes”. All because they “did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you”. Part of His weeping is personal too. In just a few days the religious leaders and the people will turn on Jesus as He is arrested…

For now, though, Jesus enters the city and teaches as before. He does what He has done but there is a bit more of an edge now, knowing what will come in the days ahead. As we look forward to the days ahead, may we also walk slowly through the week, feeling the emotion and the weight of it all. May the power of the gospel deepen our walk this week.

Prayer: Lord, draw me into the story this week. May I feel and experience the passion anew this upcoming week. Connect me to your story. Amen.