pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Personal Call

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Verse 15: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for”?

Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early on the first day, prepared to visit the grave. She was present throughout the events of Thursday and Friday, when they tried, beat, and crucified her Lord. She was there when the stone was rolled in place, sealing the end of the story. Mary comes in the darkness, full of sorrow and grief and pain. She at first assumes Jesus’ enemies have stolen the body. Mary tells Peter and John; they run to the tomb and enter, finding just the linen and cloths lying there.

Peter and John return home, but Mary lingers. She stands outside the tomb crying. Grief has been added to grief. What else could she do but stand and weep? Two angels appear in the tomb and ask her why she weeps. Because they have taken the body of her Lord. A second question comes, this time from behind her: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for”? Maybe this is who took the body. Again, tell me where you have put the body. But then it happens. Jesus says to her, “Mary”. In that moment, in that personal and intimate moment, Mary knows it is Jesus. She cries out in recognition and hears the news from Jesus Himself. She goes and tells the disciples the good news: “I have seen the Lord”! Jesus is alive. He is risen!

As it was with Mary, so it is with us. Jesus calls out to each of us: Sue! Peter! Anna! Fred! Melanie! Steve! Beth! Mark! Hanna! Joshua! … When we search, Jesus calls out to us. He seeks us. He finds us. Some have walked a slow but pretty steady journey to the point that Jesus finally became personal, calling out our name. Some have had a sudden encounter with Jesus – unexpected and sudden, caused by situation or circumstance. The same Jesus called out your name. In that moment Jesus became your Lord and Savior. There are many ways to become friends with Jesus Christ. They all begin with the same question asked of Mary: whom are you looking for?

We are all looking for the same thing. All of humanity wants purpose and meaning and relationship. We find all this and more in Jesus Christ. In Him we find a deep satisfaction for all that our soul longs for. The eternal, big questions are all answered by the One who personally calls our name. If you do not know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, open your heart to Him. He will find you. If you know the Lord, rejoice today because we celebrate: He is risen! He is alive! Thanks be to God! Jesus is alive!!

Prayer: Lord of all, you are risen, resurrected, and eternal. Yet you are intimately connected to each of us. Hallelujah! Amen.

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How Long?

Reading: Isaiah 6: 9-13

Verse 10: “Make the hearts of this people caloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes”.

Isaiah hears God’s call upon his life and responds enthusiastically, “Here I am. Send me”! He is eager to serve God. When I think back to my call to ministry, I was not quite so responsive. It took much longer to say “yes” to the call. But God was persistent and step by step He worked me around to saying yes. I think the process that I went through is generally true for most folks. God calls each of us to service; the response is up to us.

Right out of the gate, the eager Isaiah hears that his call will be an uphill battle. God sends Isaiah to tell the people to hear but not understand, to see but not to perceive. The message to repent and turn back to God’s ways will go in one ear and out the other. In verse 10 we read, “Make the hearts of this people caloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes”. Hard hearts, dull ears, closed eyes. Does not sound like a great audience to work with. The eager Isaiah must wonder why he is being called. If his ministry will make no difference, why go?

At times we can feel this way too. We can reach out to people and share the good news with them, but we experience what Isaiah experienced – hard hearts, closed minds. At times we will question why we are sent to such people. At times we too will ask, “For how long, O Lord”? How long should we keep inviting so and so to church? How long should I keep talking about my faith with him or her?

God answers Isaiah with something that reflects God’s timing and the fact that God is in control. God says, “the holy seed will be a stump in the land”. In other words, there is something there, not quite dead as it may appear, but dormant. When God decides the timing is right, God will bring forth a shoot – new life.

When we share our faith with others, through our words or actions, it may feel as if nothing is changing or that we are not making a difference. Yet, even then we are planting seeds. They may seem to lie in infertile ground or on hard soil, but they are seeds nonetheless. We plant faithfully, trusting God to one day bring those seeds to life as faith springs up in that new believer.

The same question can also be asked of us – how long? How long will we serve the Lord? May our answer be the same as Isaiah’s – all the days of our lives.

Prayer: Lord, give me the perseverance to always plant seeds of faith. Show me the words or actions that I need to say or take today to plant a few seeds in someone’s heart. Amen.


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Pleasing to God

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 8: 1-8

Verse Three: “I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.”

Paul is encouraging the folks of the church in Corinth to be faithful in following through with their pledge to support the poor back at the home church in Jerusalem. Apparently, when first asked about giving to this cause, the Corinthian church was eager to help. But as time wore on their words did not quite match their actions.

If we are honest, we have all been there. We said ‘yes’ to something because it was a good thing to support or do. But as the event or the date approaches, we struggle to accomplish what we had promised to do. Maybe that date now has a competing interest. Maybe our finances have changed and it would be easier not to. And sometimes, what we committed to does not seem like such a good thing when it comes right down to it.

Paul does not know why the Corinthians are not coming through with their promised offering, he just knows that they are not. So Paul reminds them of their commitment. By way of being encouraging, he shares that the other churches have done the right thing in spite of their hardships. They gave generously. He also reminds them that this commitment is one of faith and of doing God’s will. Paul lifts us the things they do well – faith, knowledge, speech – and encourages them to do the same in their giving. Paul closes with a bit of a challenge: “test the sincerity of your love” by comparing it with the love of these other churches who kept their commitment.

When we too struggle to honor our commitment or to do what we said we’d do, it will do us well to first return to the ‘why’. Why did we feel led to say ‘yes’ or to make that commitment? Then we should test it against God’s will. Does this thing bring glory and honor to God? And if it is still difficult or hard to do it, then we should “test the sincerity of our love”. The last question we should ask is the question Paul also often asks: are we doing as much as we can for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? When all of these are affirmative, then we usually are able to honor our commitment. When we do we too come to know experience the joy of giving. May all we do and say be pleasing to God. Amen.


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The “Why”

Reading: Mark 3: 20-30

Verse 20: “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him”.

The big crowd gathered to hear Jesus teach. Our passage tells us that it is, well, so crowded that Jesus cannot eat. There is no room! Mark writes, “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him”. They think that Jesus is not taking care of Himself and they go to have a family intervention. This has gone on long enough! Truth be told, at one time or another, we have found ourselves in this situation. That big project is due tomorrow and we forego sleep and maybe even food. Our mom or spouse or roommate warns us about how we are living. Or maybe we just sneak into the office on a day off to “catch up” – and we get the look we deserve. But sometimes, like Jesus did, we too get a look because of our faith.

Sometimes our choices of faith get us that look. I think that Jesus did not eat because it meant less teaching time. Look at all the people who are here to hear the Word. In a similar way, we encounter people without faith who do not understand us sacrificing something for our faith. They have questions like, “Why would you help pay her electric bill when you know the lights will get shut off next month too”? They wonder why we would spend a week of vacation going on a mission trip instead of going to some resort in the Caribbean. Some even wonder why in the world we would get up early on a Sunday to go sit on some hard pews when we could sleep in on the one day we could. Lots of people wonder why we do this or that for some guy named Jesus who lived two thousand years ago.

When the looks come, how do we react? How do we respond – whether it is family coming to ‘save’ us or whether it is a friend trying to talk some ‘sense’ into us or whether it is an acquaintance questioning the ‘crazy’ choices we are making? I think we begin with the story of how Jesus makes a difference in our life. When we share from the heart what Jesus has and is doing in our life, people begin to get a glimpse of faith and to sense what Jesus offers them as well. Yes, how we live our life tells our faith story. But our words are important too. They fill in the “how” with the “why”. Our words build understanding. So today, may we introduce people to Jesus with our actions and decisions and may we begin to welcome them into a personal relationship with our words. May it be so today.


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Barriers and Boundaries

Reading: Acts 8: 26-40

Verse 27: “He met an Ethiopian eunuch… this man had gone to Jerusalem to worship”.

I would love to know the faith back story of the eunuch. He lives in a place far from Jerusalem yet worships God. I would love to know how this man came to know and worship God. Did he learn of God from a Jewish person living in Ethiopia? Did he hear of God from a merchant or businessman passing through the court of the queen?

Whatever the case, his faith in God leads him to come to Jerusalem, the home of God, to worship. But he clearly did not know all the ins and outs of the Jewish faith as he left Ethiopia. He now understands a bit more. The eunuch traveled all that way only to discover that he was not welcome at the temple. He did not meet their requirements. Many others did not either.

Exclusion remains an issue today. Even in the modern world some institutions and places and groups of people exclude others based on color of skin, gender or sexual preference, language, social class, educational level… We can also exclude because “that’s not how we do it here” types of traditions and practices. There are many other ways that we can create barriers and draw boundaries.

Amazingly, the eunuch’s faith is stronger than the rejection he felt at the temple. He is found reading from Isaiah 53. Led by the Spirit, Philip engages the man and answers his question. Philip explains that the passage is speaking of Jesus and then he goes on to share the good news that a relationship with Jesus Christ offers. As they near some water, the eunuch asks to be baptized. Philip baptizes the eunuch. This foreigner, this eunuch, this rejected man is fully accepted by God. In this passage we see that God does not draw barriers or boundaries. All are His beloved and all are welcome to a saving relationship with His Son, Jesus.

The story ends with Philip being taken away to evangelize elsewhere and the eunuch continues his journey, rejoicing in his newfound faith in Jesus Christ. It is a good ending, but we cannot stop here. We must take time to look within and ponder how our churches exclude others. When I look at my church, I see that it does not match the diverse demographics of the community. Does your church match your community’s diversity? If not, you have the same question as I do: why?


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God on Display

Reading: John 9: 1-23

Verse 11: So I went and washed, and then I could see.

Today’s story makes us think.  It is a story that wrestles with the ‘why’ questions.  Why does the world work the way it does?  Why does God?  God created us with intelligence and curiosity.  We want to know how and why things work.  We want to understand things.  Life and death and what happens in between have long been mysteries that mankind has sought to explain, understand, …  Yes, we certainly know much more than we did even twenty years ago.  Yet there is still much we cannot explain or understand or begin to answer the ‘why’ questions that we have.

The cycle often repeated in the Old Testament is: following God, becoming disobedient, receiving punishment, returning to God.  So when the people considered why someone was born blind or deaf or why someone had leprosy, the natural conclusion was that it must have been punishment for something.  It was a short leap from stories such as Miriam’s disease for disobedience to applying this logic to all cases of affliction.  What caused this affliction?  Sin!  So when the man was born blind, all assumed someone in the family had sinned and this man’s blindness was the eventual consequence.

Today we know that this is not the case.  But we are still often left with the ‘why’ questions.  Why did he die so young?  Why did my spouse leave me?  Why did my position have to be the job that was eliminated?  All of these types of questions can eventually lead to the bigger one: why did God…?  It is a difficult question.  It is a question that may not be answered for years.  It is a question that is sometimes never answered.

God created our world and set it in motion.  God created the weather systems, for example.  The system was designed and set into motion.  We experience hot and cold, snow and rain, sun and clouds.  No one would argue that God individually and personally forms each of the zillions of rain drops that fall each day.  Our world operated much the same way.  Our bodies grow and they decay.  We get colds and the flu.  We lose our site or our hearing.  We get cancer and Alzheimer’s.  People make decisions that affect others – sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad.  The lightning strikes and causes a forest fire.  Much we cannot explain.

But in and through it all, God seeks to be present.  In and through it all we can trust God, we can cling to Him, we can walk with Him.  We know that God will give us just what we need for the day or situation at hand.

The blind man needed to see.  He believed what Jesus said and he received what he needed.  Through him, the glory of God was displayed.  No, he didn’t really know ‘why’ Jesus touched him and he couldn’t explain ‘why’ he could now see, but He did and  he could.  When we trust, when we have faith, when we are faithful, God is true.  Then God will be displayed in our lives as well.  May it be so.


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Questions

The teacher of the law was given a great opportunity.  He was able to ask Jesus a question directly.  And Jesus answered him directly!  This is uncommon as Jesus usually responded with another question, with a parable, or with a story or illustration that indirectly answers the question.

Think for a moment if you were this teacher.  What other question would you ask – this one goes right to the heart of his profession.  If you were a doctor, for example, you might ask about the cure to a disease.

I think the question we would ask would depend on where we are in our faith journey or on what has been occurring recently in our life.  If there has been a tragic event or if we or a loved one are drawing close to the end of our time on earth, then the question will center on this.  Many of our questions in these cases center on the “why” question.

If one is in a ‘normal’ stage of life and all is relatively good in life, the questions would be different.  Maybe our question would center on the how and what type of questions.  But in all cases, I think our questions would center on wanting to understand something better.

So if you could ask anything of Jesus, what would it be?  It is important to wrestle with our questions because they lead to conversations with Jesus.  Our questions reveal a lot about our inner being, the state of our faith, the things that are unsettled within us, and the things we long for deeply.

While we usually do not get as direct of an answer as the teacher of the law received, our questions are great to consider anyway.  Ask Him your question!  Allow the ongoing conversation between you two to roll around in your heart and mind and to build your faith in and understanding of Jesus and who He calls you to be.

Scripture reference: Mark 12: 28-34