pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Watch Out

Reading: Mark 12: 38-40

Verse 38: “Watch out for the teachers of the law…”

Jesus is teaching a large crowd in the temple when He shares some observations about the religious leaders – the teachers of the law. This passage is one of several we find in the Gospels where Jesus addresses the appearance of these men and then contrasts it with what is actually inside of their hearts. In reality, this is an issue we all face.

The teachers love their positions and the cultural respect that comes with the title. The teachers of the law were the top of the social ladder. All young boys dreamed of becoming rabbis when they grew up. Only the best and the brightest would be selected for advanced study and from there only a portion would become a rabbi. One can work so hard to get ‘there’ that sometimes we forget why we were aiming at that goal.

Jesus observes that the teachers wear long robes to be noticed. They like people to see them and to call out to them. Today there are lots of people who dress a certain way to draw attention to themselves. The teachers like the important seats – again so that they will be noticed. Some today like to be front and center to be seen. The teachers “devour widow’s houses”, using their power and authority to take advantage of the elderly and the powerless. Today folks in power prey on the weak and defenseless, using their authority to manipulate and sometimes even to abuse.

While today’s passage speaks most directly to those of us who are pastors and priests, it applies to all people who have any degree of power or authority. When we allow the title or the recognition to be more important than loving and serving others, then we have lost sight of the #1 command to love God and neighbor. We must all remind ourselves over and over that this is our call. When temptation arises to use our power or authority for personal gain, we must repent of our sin immediately. In the battle with pride and ego and self, may we ever strive to remember that all we have and are is a gift and blessing from God Almighty. Ever and always, may all of our thoughts, words, and actions be pleasing in God’s sight.

Lord, each day may I seek to love mercy, to act justly, and to walk humbly with you, my Savior and King. Amen.

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Prayer for Disciples

Reading: John 17: 6-19

Verse Fifteen: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one”.

Today’s passage is Jesus’ prayer for His disciples after He finally ascends to the Father into heaven. He has walked through the past three years with them, building up both their faith and also a personal relationship with each of them. Along the way He has prepared them for the day when He is no longer present. He has modeled what it is to be a humble servant and to love God with all one’s being. Jesus has sent them out on training missions to get a taste of what ministry without Jesus present.

In these things, Jesus reminds me of parenthood. As we raise our children, we model the behaviors, actions, and choices that we want them to make. We teach our children how to love God and others, how to be willing to give of oneself for the other. We allow them to swim a little on their own, celebrating when they succeed and picking them up when they fail. At some point it becomes time for them to be out on their own and we too pray over and for the next stage in their journey. And we keep praying for our children, just as Jesus does today as He intercedes for us all.

Jesus prays for His disciples as their work continues. Jesus realizes that they now belong to God and not to the world, just as He does. But there is still work to do, so Jesus prays, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one”. He knows they must remain in the world to accomplish the plans that God has for them and His new church. Yet Jesus also knows the challenges that lie ahead so He prays for God to protect them. Jesus knows that just as Satan tempted Him in the wilderness with the things of the world, so too will Satan try and lead the disciples away from the truth.

This is why Jesus closes the prayer by asking God to sanctify them – to make them holy. Jesus knows that if the disciples live a holy life then it will protect them against the slings of the evil one. Jesus knows holiness is rooted in the truths found in the Bible, so He asks God to sanctify them by the truth. He is asking God to put the Word in them. It is by the truth found in the Word that they are made holy. By this same Word we are made holy. This day may we be disciples grounded in the Word, loving God and others with all we are.


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Connecting

Reading: Psalm 19: 1-6

Verse One: “The heavens declare the glory of the Lord; the skies proclaim the work of His hands”.

The psalmist, who we believe to be King David, really connects to God when he takes in the natural world. In today’s verses, the Psalm concentrates on the heavens – the sun, moon, and stars. To David, observing creation itself allows one to connect to God and to hear God’s voice. While one can certainly sense God’s power and presence when one gazes up at the night sky, God’s presence also speaks in the smallest elements of creation as well.

God calls out loudly to me at the birth of a child. In those first moments as a newborn wraps it’s tiny hand around your finger, one cannot but feel God’s creative power and His sacred presence. The new little life shouts that God is there. One can also feel God’s hand at work in the created world in other ways. At times, the gentle rain has connected me deeply to God’s care for us and our earth.

This past week I was blessed with a reminder of how slowing down and being present can allow God to bless us. As I sat and talked with a family in preparation for a memorial service, one of the sons shared how his Mom just loved to sit for hours, in the corner chair, watching God’s world outside. She loved watching and listening to the birds, especially the golden finches. She loved looking at the beautiful flowers and plants and watching the breeze gently sway the trees. I could imagine her just sitting there, soaking in God’s handiwork, feeling close to her creator, to her Lord and Savior.

As I reflected on this I am reminded of my need to intentionally slow down and to connect to God through His sacred created world. It is a need we all share. So take a little time today, go for a walk or sit in the chair and look outside. Grab a cup of tea or a little snack and spend some time with God’s created world. Allow the sites and sounds and smells to connect you with God and to speak to you today.


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Stay Alert!

Reading: Mark 13: 32-37

Verse 33: “Be on guard!  Stay alert!”

Advent means “coming”.  As Christians, we celebrate the coming of Jesus during this season.  Advent invites us to slow down, to be present to God and to one another.  Advent calls us to lessen the pace of our lives and to prepare ourselves to welcome the baby Jesus into our hearts and into the world.  When we can do these things, our Advent season is calm, peaceful, and joyous.

But Advent is not without its distractions.  Culture seems to shift into a higher gear during this time of the year.  Our schedules get busier with programs at church and at school, with an office party or two, with trips to both sets of family, and, of course, with time to shop.  Our bank account seems to get stretched a bit thin with travel expenses and the need to get just the right gifts to please our family and friends.  On top of this our mind is filled with Christmas advertisements and jingles as our body is tempted to overindulge with holiday treats and more.  With all of this going on and engaging us, it is no wonder we can have difficulty focusing on the birth of Christ and what this means to our lives and to our world.

So when Jesus says, “Be on guard!  Stay alert!”, He is offering us good advice.  To not fall into the Christmas rush, we must remain on guard.  We must be aware of how the secular can draw us quickly away from the sacred.  We must stay alert to the movement and presence of God during this holy season.  In our passage, Jesus also tells the one at the door to keep watch.  We are the filter and the decision-maker for our hearts.  We choose what we allow in and what we allow to come out of our hearts.  May we open wide the door of our hearts for the presence of God to dwell in our hearts this Advent season while we share the love of Christ, allowing Him to burst forth from our hearts into all the world.  May it be so!


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Keep Watch

Reading: Matthew 25: 1-13

Verse 13: “Therefore keep watch.”

Jesus begins by saying, “the kingdom of heaven will be like…”  This is one of four parables that relates to heaven.  Heaven is of great concern to most Christians.  We want to feel like we are living in such a way that heaven is our final resting place.  So when Jesus speaks on heaven, our ears perk up a bit.

The parable of the ten virgins is about being ready when the bridegroom, or Jesus, comes.  The parable ends with, “Therefore keep watch.”  As we ponder the parable, we consider if we are indeed ready for Jesus’ return.  We also naturally consider which group of virgins we are like.  Are we like the five with plenty of oil?  Do we regularly invest in our faith, keeping closely connected to Jesus, with lots of oil in our faith lamps?  Or do we slack here and there, sort of staying connected, sometimes not having enough faith to see us through that next crisis or situation?

Another aspect of the “Therefore keep watch” directive has to do with the here and now.  The bridegroom does not just come on the last day.  Jesus comes to us every day in Spirit.  Perhaps these encounters with Jesus are of greater importance because of their cumulative effect.  But we can easily miss them.  Where did you encounter Jesus Christ yesterday?  How about on Sunday?

As we walk out our daily faith we must be watchful for those people, things, events, times where Jesus is present.  It could be in that article or devotional you read, in that prayer time you had, in that stranger on the bus, in your coworker across the cubicle from you, in the words shared by a friend.  Each time Jesus tries to draw near is a wonderful opportunity to connect and to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ.  In the parable framework, it is a way we put oil in our lamps.  In the end Jesus said to the unprepared, to the un-ready, “I don’t know you”.  May we be watchful and may we not pass Him by today or any day, lest we too hear these words one day.


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Each Day

Reading: Matthew 24: 36-44

Almost everything about “the end” is unknown.  Personally, we do not know in advance the date on which we will draw our last breath.  As a faith, we do not know the date that Jesus will return.  We do not know if this will be during our lifetime or if His return is thousands of years away.  We simply know that one day Jesus will return to make all things new.

In Matthew 24, Jesus speaks of the unknown nature, saying only God knows the time.  Even this is unclear.  Does this mean God has a date marked on the heavenly calendar or does it mean that only God will know when the time is right for Jesus to return?  In either case, Jesus’ advice is the same: keep watch, stay ready.  For emphasis, the passage ends with, “because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him”.  One will be taken, one will be left.

If this passage is not a call to live each and every day as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, I do not know what it is.  Jesus came to earth to reveal what God is like.  Jesus came and walked and lived among humanity to show us what God’s love looks like lived out in the flesh.  Jesus came to show us what it looks like to daily love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and what it looks like to daily love neighbor as self.  And He said, “Go and do likewise… make disciples of all nations…”

As disciples of Christ, we yearn to be more and more like Him every day.  We study the Bible, we spend time in prayer, we participate in small groups and in classes, we worship regularly – all to get to know Jesus better.  All this to keep watch, to stay ready.  Each day is another day to know Jesus more and to share Jesus with more people.  Each day is one day closer to when we meet Jesus face to face.  Each day, may we continue to be God’s love lived out in the world.  Each day, may we shine the light, ever walking with Jesus.


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Always Ready

Does anyone watch over you at night?  In a sense the police watch over the town as we sleep at night, but they do not guard each individual house.  A security company protects the church at night, but in reality they are only there a fraction of the night-time.  We tend to rely on locks and alarm systems to keep watch over us at night.

When the psalmist penned #121 it was a different culture but some things existed then that exist now.  Thieves and robbers broke into houses and people were concerned about being safe at night.  And like us today, they lived in and among people who followed other religions and worshipped different gods.  But in contrast to God, the people around the Israelites believed in gods that slept at night or even for a whole season.  They worshipped gods that had to be appeased or bought.  For the psalmist, for the Israelites, and for us, we worship a God who is always there.  We worship a God who never sleeps, who always watches over us, and who keeps us from harm.  Our God is always present.

Yet how often we bounce between God and our own personal gods!  We can easily stay late at work with an eye on that possible promotion or we can jealously eye the neighbor’s new car with a thought on how we could afford a new car too.  We can plop down on the couch in front of the TV instead of at the table with our Bible.  Even in these times God is with us.  Perhaps a little sad but still right there with us.  And always ready.  Always  ready to guide us, to guard our heart, to protect us, to love us, to welcome us home. Continue reading