pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Know Jesus Well

Reading: Luke 21: 5-8

Verse 8: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he'”.

Jesus knows that the end of his time on earth is drawing near. A large part of his ministry has been preparing the disciples to be ready and to be able to carry on the work. Jesus knows that the road will not always be easy. Yes, there will be times when God and the Spirit will do amazing things and the disciples will be filled with awe and wonder. But there will also be persecution and trial and even death. These will be some of the things that will test their faith.

The passage today opens with Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple. Some there that day will surely witness this and will recall Jesus’ words. According to Jewish understanding, God resides in the temple. The disciples equate the destruction of the temple to the end of the world as they know it. But it will not be so. Because he knows this, Jesus goes on to give them a warning.

In verse eight he says, “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he'”. Jesus knows that much will unfold before the new heaven and earth are established. In the interim Jesus also knows that the deceivers pose one of the greatest threats to the disciples and to the early church. The gospel itself is a pretty simple message. The call to follow Jesus is fairly easy to understand. But because we live in a world with many other philosophies and religions and in a world where Satan is at work, being a disciple is challenging. Those that Jesus is speaking to face these same challenges. Jesus tells them, “Do not follow them”. The disciples know Jesus well. If they remain connected to Jesus and to his teachings and example, then they will easily see the deceptions. The same is true for us.

If we will invest in our faith and in our relationship with Jesus Christ, we will know him well. If we are committed to knowing and living out our calling, we will be strong in the faith. Then we too will discern false teaching and will reject the false prophets and the deceivers. May we ever cling to Jesus, the good news, and the example that he lived out for us to follow.

Prayer: Father God, draw me in more and more. Deepen my connection to you. Amidst the storms and trials, may I turn to you alone. Amen.


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Awaiting God’s Work

Reading: Haggai 2: 6-9

Verses 6 and 9: “I will once more shake the heavens and earth… and in this place I will grant peace”.

Haggai continues to address the people on God’s behalf. He has just encouraged them to be strong, to have courage, and to remember God’s covenant to be with them. In today’s reading, the prophet continues to help the people know the end game that God has planned. They were worrying that the rebuilt temple would not measure up to Solomon’s temple. Into their worry God says, “I will fill this place with glory”. God also reminds them that all the silver and gold belong to God – they will have whatever they need to complete their efforts.

Through Haggai God also speaks to the future. God pronounces, “I will once more shake the heavens and earth”. God will be at work. Yes, change is on the horizon, but God is in the midst of it all. God will shake things up for the better. We read that the new glory will be greater than the glory of the former. I can’t but help that this applies to the church today. With an uncertain future we need to trust that God’s plans are for the good and that whatever God creates, it will be for God’s glory. The passage today closes with these words: “And in this place I will grant peace”. May it be so. In my heart and in the hearts of the faithful, may God’s peace reign as we await the work of the Lord Almighty.

Prayer: Lord, on those days when I feel more anxiety and worry over the future, reassure me. I know that you are in control and that your plans are for good. Whisper those truths into my heart and mind when the clouds arise. Plant my hope for the future in you alone. Amen.


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Hard Decisions, Challenging Steps

Reading: Psalm 79: 1-4

Verse 4: “We are objects of reproach to our neighbors”.

The Babylonians invaded Israel and left a wake of death and destruction in their path. In Jerusalem, the city walls were destroyed and the temple was leveled. For the Babylonians this was just one more nation to conquer. But for the Israelites, the killing was the murder of God’s chosen people and the destruction of the temple was the defilement of God’s home. What is left is not a pretty sight. “They have poured out blood like water” paints a grim picture. To add insult to injury, “we are objects of reproach to our neighbors”. The tribes around them mock what is left of Israel.

As people of God living in an increasingly non-Christian world, we can have similar experiences and emotions. In parts of our world Christians face persecution and even death. In most of our lives, however, persecution does not rise nearly to that level. Yet being a Christian is not always easy in our modern, secular world. Many of the more recent cultural norms are decidedly anti-Christian. The rugged individualism of the past and the me-first attitude of today combine to make being a humble servant countercultural and difficult. To think less of yourself and more of others can lead to questioning and ridicule. To refuse to be immoral or unethical at work can cost one promotions and can draw the ire of those above you.

Satan works in these and in many other ways to draw us away from God and into the ways of the world. It can be hard to look at what your friends, co-workers, and neighbors are doing and to not want to go along. Inside we all have a strong desire to fit in, to belong, to be liked. At times our faith will deny us these things. Something else inside of us – the Holy Spirit – is also at work to lead and guide us to be faithful and true to the Lord our God. One day we too will be poured out and will breathe our last. But between now and then may we make the hard decisions and take the challenging steps to walk as a child of the light in a world of darkness. May we live a life worthy of the one who called us, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Guiding God, sometimes it can be tempting to go along with the crowd or to say what pleases. Keep me ever focused on your will and your ways in my life. Hold my hand as I try to walk as a humble servant today. Amen.


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A Wonderful Day

Reading: Revelation 21:10, 21:22-22:5

Verse 26: “On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there”.

Today’s passage comes at the end of the Bible. The world that we see outside our windows and will step into just outside our doors today will not exist any longer. Our passage opens today with John seeing the Holy City coming down. It is a city of light and love. There is no temple – God and the Lamb are the temple. There is no sun or moon – God is the light and Jesus is the lamp. Only the children of God will inhabit the city and “on no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there”. All whose names are in the “Lamb’s book of life” will come and go freely. The river of life will feed the tree of life. It will bring healing to the nations – there will “no longer be any curse” – no pain, no tears, no grief… God and Jesus will reign forever. It will be a wonderful day.

Yet today, in the world just outside our window, just beyond our door, there is brokenness and evil and despair and division. This vision of heaven in Revelation is a someday vision. We live in this earthly reality. Our task as followers of Christ is to work to bring vision and reality closer together today and each day. We are to seek to build the kingdom here on earth. This heavenly vision draws us and helps us to focus on the task at hand. Our primary focus is how we live our day to day lives, striving to bring healing and hope and love and light to the world we inhabit. In building the kingdom here on earth we seek to end division and to break down barriers that separate us from one another. When we live together, celebrating our differences, not in spite of them, then the peace and love of God and Jesus will reign. If we can live and love and bring hope and light into the world each day, then each day will be a wonderful day. May it be so for me and for you.

Prayer: Bringer of light and love, of hope and peace, use me as an instrument of yours today. Help me to walk side by side with all of my brothers and sisters in the world today. Enable me to break down all that separates in order to build up your kingdom here on earth. Guide me, O Lord. Amen.


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Outside

Reading: Luke 2: 41-52

Verse 49: “Why didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house”?

The Passover pilgrimage is one of those yearly traditions for Mary and Joseph and family. Every year pick up cousin so and so in this place and then add in uncle so and so in that place along the route to Jerusalem. The caravan grows as it makes its way to the city. Yes, there have been changes – someone had a baby and someone has passed on. By 12 or 13 Jesus has gotten the pattern down quite well. It is no wonder that Mary and Joseph assume Jesus is somewhere in the caravan as they head home. After all, they did tell him that they were leaving that morning at 9.

In our passage Jesus appears to be disobeying Mary and Joseph. Instead of leaving Jerusalem He goes to the temple. In a foreshadowing of what it to come, Jesus amazes the teachers and religious leaders with His answers and understanding. But apparently the temple is not the first place Mary and Joseph thought of to look for Jesus. After three days of searching, they find Him. In response to Mary’s question about treating them this way, Jesus says, “Why didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house”? Of course – where else would He be? For now, Mary and Joseph do not understand what Jesus is saying.

In His Jewish upbringing Jesus would have seen the temple as the place where God dwells. At 12 or 13 this is a logical frame of understanding. To us it makes sense as well. In our worship and in times when we want to be alone with God, we too feel connected to God in the sanctuary or chapel. As Jesus grows, however, His understanding of where we meet God expands greatly. It is along the road, in the house, on the mountain, by the lake, beside the well, and about anywhere else you can name. Jesus does spend some ministry time in the temple, but the vast majority of His ministry is spent outside in the world. This puzzled the religious leaders of the day and it continues to puzzle many today. But the unquestionable reality is that Jesus Christ found the least, lost, and last outside of the temple, in everyday life. That is where we will find them too. So may we go out today to share the light and love of Jesus Christ with the world.

Prayer: Lord, unbusy me. Help me to get outside the walls more and more. Help me to be better at doing your work in the world. Amen.


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Destination God

Reading: Psalm 84: 1-7

Verse 5: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage”.

Today’s Psalm has familiar words to music lovers young and old. The opening verse and bridge to the contemporary worship song, “Better In One Day”, spring from verses one and two. A great old hymn also comes to mind as one reads this Psalm. “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” has its roots in Psalm 84. Both of these songs echo the psalmist’s key themes: we are blessed both when we are with God and when we are on the pilgrimage to be with God.

The original purpose of Psalm 84 would have been to encourage pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. They would have sung it as they traveled. The opening lines remind them of the goal – the temple. They would also be reminded of the ‘why’ behind the journey – to be in God’s presence. Verse two expresses this desire well: the soul yearns and the heart and flesh cry out. For those who have arrived, for those “who dwell in your house”, they are filled with praises for God. This joyous end of the journey would be much anticipated by the pilgrims.

The next stanza, verses five through seven, addresses the realities of life for some of the pilgrims. Verse five reads, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage”. This blessing is also ours. Once we decide to set our course with God, we too gain strength and encouragement for the journey. Once we profess our desire to walk with God, then we too are blessed. But the journey is not always joyous, not always easy. In the earliest texts of Psalm 84 the journey would have passed not through the valley of Baca but through the “valley of sorrows”. It was a dry place where the pilgrim’s tears would “make it a place of springs”. God’s presence would have been the “autumn rains” that filled them with blessings and joy. Even in sorrow, God is present. As these pilgrims journey on towards their destination, they know God’s presence as they “go from strength to strength” as they continue towards God’s dwelling place.

Whether we are like the sparrow that has found a home or if we are a pilgrim on the journey or if we now find ourselves passing through the valley, we know the same destination. This day and every day may we yearn for and cry out for God, ever seeking to dwell in God’s presence, drawing strength upon strength from the Lord our God. How lovely it is to dwell with the Lord!


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Anywhere, Anytime

Reading: Psalm 48: 9-14

Verse Nine: “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love”.

The Israelites viewed the temple as God’s dwelling place. It was a sacred and holy place. When the psalmist writes, “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love” to open our passage today, he would have really meant it. The temple was the place to connect to God and to worship God. After the period in exile and the dispersal of Jews around the known world, synagogues also became places to meditate and reflect on God’s word and to praise and worship God. Yet even then there remained the connection with the temple as the home of God.

As we jump forward to our time and frame if reference, the church sanctuary is often the place where people feel close to God. Yet it is a place of God’s presence and not necessarily God’s being. The sanctuary is a holy and sacred place, but we do not feel like any of our sanctuaries are the home of God.

This shift has led to two important things for me. It has helped my sense of God’s omnipresence. The idea that God can be present in all places speaks to me of the vastness and unlimited nature of God. This ties into the unfailing love idea expressed by the psalmist. It also speaks of God’s presence in many other places besides the temple or synagogue or chruch. God can be intimately connected to during a walk on the beach, a hike in the woods, on a yoga mat in the living room, at the corner coffee shop… God can be and is encountered in many ways and in many places.

This shift also means that we can help others encounter God anywhere and anytime. This means we can minister to the broken and lost and hurting as instruments of God’s unfailing love wherever we encounter them. God is there too. Through loving others we can help them to meet and connect to God wherever they are at and whenever our paths cross. In doing so we are living out our faith and living into verse thirteen, telling of our God to the next generation of believers.

Lord God, bless us with opportunities to connect with you wherever we are and to witness to your power and presence with all we meet. May it be so today. Amen.