pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Resurrection Faith

Reading: John 20: 24-31

Verse 29: “Because you have seen me, you believe; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

Thomas’ doubt stands out to us in today’s reading. It almost makes us forget that all eleven were hiding behind locked doors. Thomas wanted what the ten had seen just the week before: to see the risen Christ. Not only that, but he thought he needed to touch Jesus too to really solidify his belief. It turns out that just seeing and hearing Jesus is enough for Thomas to believe. I can relate to Thomas. There have been times when I needed or longed for a tangible sign of God’s presence and love.

As Christians we have just been a part of remembering and celebrating the resurrection for the 1,987th time. For me it is about the 50th that I have concrete memories of. We understand well what the resurrection is all about and what it means to our faith and to our lives. Yet, do we live it out? Are acts of mercy and forgiveness regular parts of our daily living? Does our day to day witness involve the bringing and sharing of new life and hope in Jesus name? Do we even live it ourselves? Do we follow in the footsteps of the one we worshipped just yesterday?

We connect into the second half of verse 29. Jesus is speaking to Thomas as the verse begins. We like to see ourselves in the second half of the verse – not so much in the first half. Verse 29 reads: “Because you have seen me, you believe; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. I can too easily feel pride when I hear these words. I can too simply downgrade Thomas while elevating self. And I can flip that verse pretty quickly, claiming a religious high ground as I look down at peers and other contemporaries who demand proof of Jesus.

Skipping to the end of our passage we read, “that by believing you may have life in his name”. That is the blessing that Jesus speaks of when talking to Thomas. That is the living out of the resurrection. When we are quick to offer forgiveness instead of hanging onto anger, when we are eager to offer self and our possessions instead of clinging to them, when we are swift to open the door to the other instead of walling ourselves up – then we are practicing a resurrection faith. May that be my path today. May it be yours as well.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you modeled faith so well when you ministered to the world. Love and grace and mercy and welcome flowed through you. You touched lives and brought hope and light and faith. May you use me as a conduit of these things. Amen.


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Only in Surrender

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-31

Verse 18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth to address a division that has arisen. On one side of the divide are the Greeks. They love learning and discussing ideas. They look for and prize wisdom above all else. They want to know their way into believing in Jesus Christ. On the other side are the Jews. The Jews look for signs. This is how they had always recognized and identified the power of God at work. Way back the power of God was revealed in the manna and in the wall of Jericho falling down, just to name a couple of examples. More recently it shown as Jesus and the disciples healed and cast out demons. The Jews wanted to be awed into believing in Jesus.

Paul tells both sides that they are wrong. Both the Greeks and the Jews are looking in the wrong place if they want to find the power of Jesus Christ. In our opening verse Paul writes, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”. To the world the cross represents weakness and shame and wrong doing. To the world it was foolishness for Jesus to die on a cross like a common criminal. But the world is perishing. Paul instead reminds the Jews and Greeks that true power is found in the cross. It was on the cross that Jesus demonstrated servanthood and obedience. It was there that he became humble to death as he died to save us all. In his death and resurrection Jesus defeated the powers of sin and death and paved the way for us all to experience “righteousness, holiness, and redemption”.

Just as Jesus was humble, we too must be humble as we approach faith. We cannot think our way into believing. Nor can we argue another into faith. We cannot “genie” our way to believing either. We cannot try and force God to prove he is real. We find faith when we come to the point of kneeling before Jesus, aware of our sin and our need for his grace, humbly asking him to be the Lord of our life. Only when we surrender do we find victory in Christ. It is more of that upside-down kingdom. When we are weak, he is strong. May we walk in surrender to our Lord and Savior today.

Prayer: Loving Father, you took me as I was, broken and filled with so many sins and weaknesses. Just like a potter, you went to work reforming and reshaping me, guiding me to your purposes. I am far from perfect. I beg you to continue to be at work in me. I surrender all to you for your glory. Amen.


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Epiphany Moments

Reading: Matthew 2: 1-12

Verse 11: “They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him”.

Today is Epiphany!! An epiphany is a “sudden and profound understanding” of something. In the Christian church, Epiphany, or the feast of the Magi, celebrates the visit of the wise men to the Messiah. The original Epiphany had celebrated the baptism of Jesus, when God gave those present and all who would read the account the sudden and profound understanding that Jesus Christ is God’s son. With said understanding came the directive to listen to him.

The visit of the Magi became the focus of Epiphany in early church times. Looking back on the early story, the church came to realize the true epiphany in the story – Jesus Christ came for the whole world. These men from the far east would certainly be seen as Gentiles. They were clearly outside the Jewish faith. Yet God called them. Through a sign in the heavens – a new star – one that God knew would get their attention, God called. Using their belief that the world and nature reveal things to humanity, God led the Magi to come and see the newborn Jesus.

Following the star was the Magi’s natural instinct. Once they arrived, something else took over. We read, “They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him”. Jesus was not on a throne. He did not dwell in a palace. Nothing about his surroundings or his mother or his economic status would ever suggest “king”. Yet in great joy they knew – this is the one! They worshipped and gave gifts. Guided by God, they then return to their country.

Today or tomorrow or the next day, when we have an epiphany moment, seeing God anew or in the face of one we encounter, will we too stop and praise God? Will we even recognize the hand of the divine at work? If we, like the Magi, head out seeking God, then God will find us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord of all nations and all people, thank you for being such an inviting and welcoming God. You brought the Magi in, you welcome sinners like me. Your love abounds for all people. May my love look a little like your love. Amen.


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A Sign

Reading: Isaiah 7: 10-14

Verse 12: “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test”.

King Ahaz is an ungodly king who has tried to solve the issues facing him with his own power and intelligence. Ahaz thought himself capable of protecting himself and Judah against the coming tide of Assyria. In spite of his arrogance and disobedience, God still reaches out to him. Out of the depths of his love for this lost soul and for Judah, the remnant of his chosen people, God offers himself to Ahaz. The Lord encourages Ahaz to ask for a sign, indicating that God is still ready to act.

Just as it was with Ahaz, sin separates us from God and from one another. Even when our sin is relatively “short term” we can stay away from or can be reluctant to go to God. Our guilt or shame makes us feel unworthy. When our sin has become a habit or has slid into a season in life, then our alienation grows stronger, the separation deeper. Ahaz has walked disobediently for a while. In his mind maybe he thinks he does not deserve to ask God a question. Or maybe he fears God’s answer. Maybe, just maybe, he does not want to ask because he believes he can still figure it all out.

These possible scenarios might sound familiar. It was not hard for me to imagine why Ahaz might have responded as he did, saying, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test”. We have all been there. Yet in spite of the long disobedience, in spite of refusing to humble himself in God’s presence, in spite of it all, God still reaches out. What a loving God. What an amazing God.

The sign God gives is a sign of hope and promise. In spite of all that Ahaz and Judah have done (and not done), God promises a son, born of a virgin, to be Immanuel – God with us. This sign, this hope, this promise will be much more than God simply reaching out through a prophet. The sign, hope, and promise came and dwelt among us. Thanks be to God. Hallelujah!

Prayer: Lord God, your love is often hard to really understand. Whether it is a little stumble or something more major, your love and grace and mercy are always there, ready to be poured out upon me. It is a love that is hard to comprehend. Even so, it is a love you offer, time and again. Thank you so much for loving a sinner like me. Amen.


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Living Out Faith?

Reading: Luke 12: 49-56

Verse 56: “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time”?

Sometimes when I read the Bible I forget that the people are living long ago. Sometimes I imagine Jesus talking to me instead of to a crowd of first century Jews. When Jesus says things like “I have a baptism to undergo”, I think of something much different than his audience would have thought. For those new to Jesus maybe they’d have thought it a bit late to be baptized. For those following Jesus they’d have remembered John baptizing Jesus in the wilderness and they would be confused. But when we read the words many years later we connect them to Jesus’ crucifixion. At the time, only Jesus would have this thought.

After acknowledging the crowd’s ability to predict the weather based on the signs they see in the sky, Jesus admonishes them for not being able to see who he is. He asks them, “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time”? We can look back, again, knowing how the story ends and we can think the same question as Jesus asks. But hold that thought for a second.

Jesus’ audience is steeped in the Old Testament. They have read and read the Messianic prophecies and other writings scattered throughout the scriptures. These are signs predicting the coming Messiah. As his birth, life, and ministry have unfolded, many have been fulfilled. These are the signs that Jesus implores them to read, see, and interpret. But many in the crowd are not really looking. Most Jews want a Messiah that is another David, a triumphant leader who defeats the Romans. Others there are curious – they hope see or perhaps receive a miracle. They want a peek at this Jesus character. Not many are not looking for the servant king predicted in the Bible.

Let us return to the question for a moment. We have read the end of the story and we know that Jesus is the Messiah. We know the gift of salvation, the promise of eternal life, the daily presence of the Holy Spirit… In turn, do we live out a life of faith seeking to make disciples of all people? Or do we live out a personal, private faith?

Dear God, I can do better. Help me to better live out my faith. I do not always love the least and the lost. I do not always share the good news with the broken and hurting. Lead me outside my comfort zone, O God. Amen.


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All Nations, All Peoples

Reading: Luke 4: 21-30

Verse 23: “Surely you will quote me this Proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’. Do here in your hometown…”

It is likely that almost everyone in the synagogue in Nazareth knew Jesus – many since He was a baby or since He was a small boy. As He claims that He fulfills the prophecy from Isaiah 61, many in the crowd think or say, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son”? Isn’t Jesus just the carpenter’s boy? Hearing or sensing this, Jesus says, “Surely you will quote me this Proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’. Do here in your hometown…”. It is hard to be at home as something or someone different than you were just a few months before. The crowd, who are hanging in the balance, want to see someone new, someone who has made good. To know it is true, they want to see a sign, a miracle. They want proof for who Jesus is claiming to be.

Perhaps the words from Jeremiah 1 – the words that we have been looking at the past two days – began to ring in Jesus’ ears. Maybe Jesus hears God reminding Him of who He was created to be. Jesus knows the plans that God has for Him. Perhaps this is what keeps Jesus from offering a sign at this moment. Pretty fresh off of the temptations in the wilderness, perhaps Satan returns with a fury, egging Jesus on to ‘just do it’. Satan would delight in Jesus using His power for the wrong reasons – to bring Himself glory. But Jesus resists all of this.

Instead, Jesus chooses to redefine their understanding of God and faith. To His audience, who are part of the chosen people, Jesus shares two stories that illustrate that God is bigger than Israel’s God. In reminding them that God rescued a foreign widow’s son fro death and healed a Syrian army commander of leprosy, Jesus is saying that it is not all about Israel. The idea that God’s love extends beyond them, beyond the people who keep the circle tightly closed, beyond the people who look down upon all outside of Israel as Gentiles, this was too much.

Yet we know it is not too much. To go just to Zarephath or to heal just an outsider who wanders in is not enough. Jesus called us to go to the ends of the earth, to make disciples of all nations, if all peoples. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, may I live into Jesus’ vision of the kingdom here on earth. It is a kingdom that includes all people. May I see all as a part of your family, especially those who have trouble seeing it themselves. Guide me to help others to become someone who walks in the light and love of Jesus. Amen.


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Signs

Reading: John 2:11

Verse 11: “This, the first of His miraculous signs, revealed His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him”.

At the wedding in Cana, Jesus offers the first sign. The miracle of changing ordinary water into extraordinary wine is an amazing event. Yet, the the book of John, he chooses the word “sign”, not miracle. John’s gospel focuses on revealing the divinity of Christ, using several signs to point people to Jesus as the Son of God, as the Messiah, as the light of the world.

There are only seven signs or miracles in John’s gospel. Each is chosen from the more prolific ministry of Jesus because of the way they point to or reveal Jesus as the Son, the light… The signs demonstrate Jesus’ power over substances and nature, His power over illness, His power over hunger and need, and, lastly, His power over death. With each sign there is a growing awareness of Jesus’ true identity. There is also a growing fear of Him that will lead to His death and resurrection.

Today’s passage is the first sign in John’s gospel that begins to reveal who Jesus is. If we were to reflect upon our lives, we too have a first sign – that moment when we first began to see Jesus as our Lord and Savior. It was that first tug at the heart. Maybe it happened in Sunday school or at youth group. Maybe it happened at church one morning or at VBS. Maybe it was at church camp or maybe it was one day when you were alone with your Bible. When it happened for them, “His disciples put their faith in Him”. That first sign in our lives started us down that road as well. Each ensuing sign that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the light, our hope and promise, builds up our faith and our relationship with our Lord and Savior. May we continue to see the signs, continuing to grow in our faith, always awed by the ways that God is revealed to us and through us.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for that first inkling of who you are. Thank you for every sign and every gentle nudge and whisper. Continue to reveal yourself to me, drawing me ever closer to you. Amen.


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Our Assignment

Reading: Mark 13: 1-8

Verses 5 & 8: “Watch out that no one deceives you… nation will rise against nation… earthquakes and famine… these are the beginnings of birth pains”.

Leaving the temple, one of the disciples observes, “What magnificent buildings”! Jesus then indicates that a time is coming when “every stone will be thrown down”. A bit later, in private, the disciples want to know when this will happen. They want to know the signs so that they can be prepared for Jesus’ return.

Jesus gives them some signs to look for. In addition to wars, Jesus says, “Watch out that no one deceives you… nation will rise against nation… earthquakes and famine… these are the beginnings of birth pains”. There will be deceivers – false prophets and teachers trying to gain power and wealth for themselves, hiding behind lies and fake religion. There will be wars where nations square off against one another. These wars will have many injuries, much destruction, and large loss of life. Nature will also be heard from – earthquakes! Masses will struggle as famine grips parts of the world. All if these will be signs – “birth pains” – indications that the end is drawing near.

Ever since these words were spoken and later recorded, many generations have read it, reflected on the words, and thought that the end is at hand. We do today as well. We have had no shortage of false teachers, wars, famines, disease, and natural disasters of all kinds. Yet here we remain. We continue to ask: when? The best answer is: when God is ready. God’s plan is unfolding according to God’s plan. That simple. I think a big part of the “not yet” is the work yet to be done by the church. There are many unsaved people that still need to hear the gospel and to experience the saving power of Jesus Christ. The Great Commission remains unfinished. Our assignment is still to make disciples of all peoples. When will the new creation come? Maybe when we have accomplished our assignment.

Prayer: Patient God, guide me to the next person that needs to hear the good news if your Son, Jesus Christ. And then guide me to the next and the next and the next… May it be so, all for your glory. Amen.


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Signs and Wisdom

Reading: 1 Corinthians 1: 18-31

Jesus did not fit into the mold that some people had.  He did not meet their expectations, so they struggled to see Him as the Messiah.  Even though the Jews were looking for a Messiah, Jesus did not match their vision, therefore He was rejected.  The Greeks operated on wisdom and logic.  A person cannot be argued into or convinced of belief.  The miracles had to have some logical explanation.  Jesus did not fit their mold either.

For the Jews, their history is full of big signs of God’s presence.  The signs are often on the national scale.  All of the firstborn die in Egypt – except the Jewish families were passed over.  The manna and quail come for a long period of time to feed the whole nation in the desert.  God sweeps in the Assyrians and then the Babylonians to deal with the nation’s sin.  Perhaps Jesus giving sight to a blind man or raising one person from the dead were simply too small.  These miracles did not fit into their understanding of God at work amongst the nation.

We are not too far removed from the Jews and Gentiles of Jesus’ day.  Wisdom gets in the way of following Jesus all the time.  We rationalize why we couldn’t possibly do this or that instead of stepping forth in faith. We think we know best and need to be in control instead of trusting in God’s lead.  At times we demand signs too.  We try and strike if-then deals – if You will do this Jesus, then I will…  We want to see Jesus at work in the answer to our prayer or in the resolution to a situation and then we will…

The perspective had also changed.  God’s covenant was with the nation of Israel and it covered individuals.  This is how they wanted Jesus to act too.  They wanted to see the Romans banished in one fell swoop, for example.  But Jesus sought a personal relationship with each believer.  Jesus sought a covenant with individuals that extends to the whole world.  This is still what Christ seeks: a one-on-one relationship with each of us.  This relationship is based upon faith, belief, trust, love…  All are foundational.  And all must be experienced.  This is how the relationship begins and how it grows.  These are our experiences that translate into ‘wisdom’ and ‘signs’.  This is what we have to share with those in our lives who do not have a relationship with Jesus.  Through each of us, may the world come to know Christ, one person at a time.