pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Prepared

Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

Verse 44: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Returning to these words of Jesus in Matthew 24, we again hear the call to be prepared. Jesus implies that being prepared involves living faithfully. Noah is the first example. Against all reason he built an ark, trusting fully in God’s direction. Jesus follows this with another example. In verses 40-41 he speaks of two men and then two women. Both are engaged in everyday life. In both cases, one will be taken to heaven and one will be left behind. We can only assume that one had lived faithfully and one had not.

Throughout the gospels Jesus is clear that we do not live faithfully just to get into heaven. We live out our faith here to make the world better, to make a positive difference, to do God’s will here as it is in heaven. So what if we read verses 42-44 in this light too? In the next chapter in Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats. In this passage Jesus says, “whenever you did this for one of the least of these” then we’re doing it for Jesus. What if each opportunity to feed or clothe or visit or… is an opportunity to look into the face of Jesus?

With that in mind, re-read verse 44: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Maybe he will come in the one you meet this afternoon as you’re walking downtown. Maybe she will come in the morning as someone new comes to church. May we be prepared to recognize Jesus always.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see better. Lead me to love wider. Guide me to know you and to recognize you more regularly. Amen.


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Focus Shift

Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

Verse 42: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.”

Photo credit: Javardh

In today’s and tomorrow’s text from Matthew 24 Jesus is telling us to always be prepared for his return. It is hard to always be prepared for something – especially if we don’t know when or where or how that moment will come. A social studies test on Tuesday during second period? Sure – I’ll study Monday night and Tuesday morning. A physical fitness test for my next rank on December 11? Sure – I’ll start jogging and doing sit-ups this Monday. Jesus is coming back in January or in 23 years or in 5 more generations or… Harder to always be prepared.

Jesus warns us against one of my biggest struggles – being busy. Using the people of Noah’s day as an example, Jesus says they were all just going about life. All were too busy to really take pause at this man building a giant boat. How often I can get so busy that I miss signs and opportunities to serve others or to minister to another. Maybe you’re not like me, but I have lots of woulda, coulda, shoulda moments.

In verses 42 Jesus says, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.” Jesus is calling us to always pay attention, to always be ready, to always notice, to always step into the opportunity. Put another way, he is calling us to be less self-focused, to be more selfless. My self-imposed busyness is just that – a choice. Maybe yours is too. Instead, may we shift focus to others, so that we can love, care for, comfort, encourage, uplift, strengthen… all that God brings before us each day.

Prayer: Lord God, peel my time and focus away from me and turn it outward, to those whom you bring into my life each day. Open my eyes and heart to these. Amen.


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Complete and Total Love

Reading: John 14:23-26

Verse 23: “If anyone loves me, he [or she] will obey my teaching.”

Photo credit: Clay Banks

In today’s verses from John 14, Jesus connects loving and obeying. In verse 23 we read, “If anyone loves me, he [or she] will obey my teaching.” For emphasis, Jesus adds, “He [or she] who does not live me will not obey my teaching” in verse 24. To love means to obey. To not obey means no love. Jesus is not just talking about what it looks like on the surface, but is speaking to the heart of the matter.

Today we might use the phrases “practice what you preach” or “walk the talk” to illustrate what Jesus is getting at here. To preach about forgiveness on Sunday morning and then to withhold forgiveness on Tuesday afternoon is not obeying Jesus. It is disobedience because Jesus taught us to forgive just as we are forgiven. If I tell my children to respect others and then I myself exclude someone for whatever reason, I am not obeying Jesus’ command to love one another – even my enemies. To encourage generosity and compassion in others and then to be stingy and selfish – yes, not obeying what Jesus taught and modeled. Yes, saying the right thing. No, not walking the talk.

This list could literally go on and on, page after page after page. It is so because the command to love had no limits, no stipulations, no conditions, no excuses, no rationalizations… It was a straight-up command to love those who are hard to love and to love those easy to love, to love those who love us and to love those who hate us, to love those like us and to love those different from us.

Today we are reminded that it must be more than words. It must be practiced and lived out all the time. If it is not, we fail to obey Jesus’ teachings. If we fail, it is not love. Today may our love be total and complete.

Prayer: Lord God, when I’m struggling to love and obey, send Jesus’ Holy Spirit to remind me, to convict me, to do whatever is necessary for me to obey and love. In my obedience to your teachings may I demonstrate my love for you and for all people. Amen.


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Always… Praise!

Reading: Psalm 148:13-14

Verse 14: “God has raised up for the people a horn… Praise the Lord!”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

We return to Psalm 148 today to again be reminded that God gave us Jesus, the horn and king. Because of this gift we are so blessed, so loved. Our response is to praise the Lord!

This horn connects to all of our other passages for this week. In John 13 it is the Lord who demonstrated what it means to love in noticeable and extraordinary ways – so much so that Christians are known by their love for one another. In Acts 11 it is this horn that began to pry open the circle, inviting all people to enter into a saving relationship with the Lord of life. And in Revelation 21 it is the king who will return in glory, establishing a new kingdom here on earth. In this new kingdom the time will be filled with praise and worship of the Lord.

He who was and is and is to come is at the center of faith and all life. He who always was and is and always will be invites us to praise him, bringing Christ the glory always. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord God, show me little ways to praise you today – a thousand small acts of love! Provide small opportunities to practice your radical love today! Amen.


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Always

Reading: Philippians 4:4

Verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

What was the hardest thing you went through in the last few weeks? What was your greatest struggle or challenge to your faith during this time? When have you felt the temptation of sin – anger, gossip, jealousy, pride, judging… – recently? How have others wronged or otherwise hurt you during the past few weeks?

Were you able to do as Paul says today? In those times of hardship or trial or suffering were you able to “rejoice in the Lord always?” This is our encouragement today. And “always” Paul says! So, how does one rejoice in the midst of such difficult situations or circumstances? It begins with another “always”: the Lord is always with us. The Lord’s presence never leaves us. In moments of anger or frustration, Christ is there to bring us peace. In moments of temptation, Christ is there to bring us strength. In moments of despair, Christ is there to give us hope. In moments of sadness, Christ is there to comfort us. In all things, Christ is always there with us. Whether by prayer, by turning to the scriptures, or by fellowship with other believers, we can be reminded of how to find all we need in Jesus Christ.

This is reason to rejoice. But there is another reason: it is part of our witness to our faith. When we walk through the trials… in faith, others notice. The world, for example, reacts to anger with anger. When we choose to react to anger with empathy or kindness or by seeking understanding, we provide an alternative way to be in the world. The joy, hope, peace, strength, comfort, grace, assurance… that we live with in the difficult and hard times reveals our faith in the one who is always with us. This day may all see Christ within us.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all. Your presence always walks with me. In those times when others notice your peace, hope… make me ready to share my faith. Amen.


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Always There

Reading: Psalm 146: 1-4

Verse 2: “I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praises to my God as long as I live.”

Psalm 146 is a song of praise to the Lord. It rejoices in God’s presence in the lives of the faithful. It celebrates the ways that God has been present in times of need and with those who are on the margins. In our faith journey we have experienced God’s presence throughout the highs and lows and during all that falls in between these extremes.

In verse two we read, “I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praises to my God as long as I live.” There is a commitment to praising God in all things and at all times. No matter what life is bringing, the psalmist chooses to praise the Lord. There is also a warning in these verses for today. In verse three we are reminded, “Do not put your trust in princes” – or in any other earthly thing for that matter. Rulers die and return to dust. Possessions and wealth only get us so far. Beauty and popularity fade. The plans that we make “come to nothing” when our lives end here on earth. This world, this life with all its trappings, is only temporary.

With an eye on the eternal, the psalmist calls us to “Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, o my soul.” We do so because we are assured of God’s victory over sin and death. We do so because we are assured of our place in God’s kingdom, both now and into forevermore. We do so because we are assured of God’s constant and abiding presence. Yes, today and every day may we praise the Lord!

Prayer: Lord God, when I turn to you, you are always there. When I’ve wandered and make my way back to you, you are always there. When I struggle and cry out to you, you are always there. In the stars or sunrise or thunder, I am reminded that you are always there. In the middle of the routine of everyday life, in the smallest of ways, you remind me that you are always there. Thank you Lord for your presence in my life. Amen.


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Always There

Reading: John 6:35

Verse 35: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry… will never be thirsty”.

Food gives us energy. It sustains us. Food brings us enjoyment and pleasure. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life”. Speaking of the spiritual, Jesus is our sustenance and our energy, our joy and our contentment. But unlike physical food, which is depleted, Jesus says, “He who comes to me will never go hungry… will never be thirsty”. If we place our faith in Jesus Christ he will always sustain us, will always be present with us.

In the trials and the challenges, when we hunger for Jesus, he will always be there. Jesus will be there to encourage us in that difficult talk, to guide us when we’re not sure of the way, to strengthen us for the necessary but hard tasks. In the valleys and sufferings, when we thirst for Jesus, he will always be there. When the news of illness or loss comes, Jesus will be our peace and comfort. When the unwanted change forces us somewhere we do not want to be, Jesus will walk with us. When we are placed in a situation or with a person that tests our limits, Jesus will be our grace and love.

When we come to Jesus, when our faith leans into him, Jesus will always be there. We will never hunger or thirst. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, your presence always sustains me. Your love always guides and leads me. Your grace and mercy always restore and redeem me. You never leave or forsake me. Thank you for your contact presence. Amen.


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Always, Always

Reading: Psalm 51: 7-12

Verse 11: “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me”.

Photo credit: Jonas Jacobsson

Originally the Psalms were songs or prayers used to worship God. The Psalms express the collective whole of our human emotions, the challenges of our faith, and the depth of God’s love for us. Psalm 51 is David’s prayer to God that encompasses all three of these expressions.

Lent is a time when we also express these things as we look within and seek to live a more faithful life. When we do as David does in this Psalm – bearing his heart and soul to a holy and just God – there is a deep trust that God will cleanse us and will bring us healing, that God will “restore to me the joy of your salvation”. There is also a hard reality too. To “create in me a pure heart” and to cleanse me, God has to get a good, clear look at my sins and failures. That is humbling. That feels vulnerable.

Have you ever messed up really bad and you know that you have to go and apologize? You know you need to try and make things right again. You want to restore the relationship. But you really messed up. In your heart and mind you wonder if they’ll forgive you or if they’ll send you packing. Even though David has walked a long time with God, there is a part of him cautious about bringing these sins before God. David really messed up. This feeling runs beneath the surface of the Psalm. In his mind, great is his sin. A part of David wonders if God will restore those “crushed bones”… In verse eleven David pleads, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me”. God, don’t send me packing. These words of David acknowledge God as the one with the power and ability to cleanse and restore, as the one who renews and sustains us. And these words express a desire to be in God’s presence, to continue in relationship with God. This desire connects into David’s request for knowing again the joy of salvation and of having a “willing spirit” within that sustains him.

In our human relationships we do sometimes wonder if they’ll forgive us. Did we mess up too bad this time? With God there really is no doubt, no questioning, no point of being “too bad”. God always, always seek to cast the net wide, to guide us back into a right relationship with him. As David did, we must enter into his holy and just presence, trusting in a love that is greater than all of our sin. Thanks be to God for his love.

Prayer: God, create in me a willing spirit, a deep desire to have a pure heart. Cleanse me daily of my iniquities, restore me often to the joy of your salvation. Grant me a willing spirit that seeks to be in an intimate and personal relationship with you. Amen.


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Habits and Practices

Reading: John 2: 18-22

Verse 20: “It has taken 46 years to build this temple”.

Yesterday we read about Jesus clearing the temple and we’re asked to consider where we could stand against some wrongs or evils in the world around us. In today’s passage we see the reaction of the religious leaders – those in charge of the temple. They want to know by what authority Jesus can do what he has done. In a way, they are asking if they can just go back to business as usual tomorrow, when he is gone. They ask for a sign and Jesus does give them one. They will just have to wait to see the truth of him rising after three days in the grave. Most of the religious leaders will deny that event too. Almost all will fail to connect Jesus’ resurrection to his answer to the question about his authority.

The market place in the temple courts probably began simply – some guy looking to help out travelers from afar by selling doves for sacrifices. And then another guy set up shop selling sheep. Eventually the sellers moved out inside the temple courts and some priest thought about requiring temple coins for their purchases. Money changers became a necessity and soon enough a thriving enterprise was born. Jesus challenged the corruption of this system. In response to Jesus’ cryptic answer the religious leaders say, “It has taken 46 years to build this temple”. In a way they are saying that the temple and the market place have always been here. In our churches and other organizations we say, “We’ve always done it that way”. So what it has become broken or corrupt or no longer is effective or isn’t holy or sacred anymore? One of the good things about the pandemic is that it has forced us to examine the practices and routines of the church. This season has been a time to let some things die, to imagine new possibilities, and to make changes to things that were ineffective, irrelevant, or outdated. Many of us have gone through the same process in our own lives and in our faith. This season of Lent invites us to do that hard work, to go deeper.

Although perhaps not 46 years, what habits or practices have you fallen into or out of that have lessened your walk with the Lord? What needs changed?

Prayer: Dear Lord, you still have the ability to do wonders and to work miracles. What in me needs addressed? Open my eyes to see and bind my will to yours. Make me more like you. Amen.


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The Faithful Road

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-24

Verses 21 and 22: “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil”.

In his closing Paul reminds the Thessalonians of some basics of the faith. In short order he gives them three: live with joy, pray always, and be thankful in all things. As we each consider this short list, we quickly recognize one or two, maybe three, as challenging. Living joyfully, for example, is pretty easy when things are good. But on a really bad day or during a season of loss, living with joy can be a real effort. Similarly, in difficult times it can be hard to give thanks. After we’ve prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed about someone or something, it can be trying to keep praying to a God who doesn’t seem to care enough to answer. Faith is not always easy. It was not meant to be easy. Jesus described the road as “narrow”. These are just some of the reasons we have company on the road.

In verse nineteen Paul warns us against putting out the fire of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has always been represented as fire since that first Pentecost Sunday when “what seemed to be tongues of fire” came upon the followers of Jesus (Acts 2:3). The Holy Spirit is our main divine companion for our journey of faith. The indwelling presence of Jesus Christ lives inside of us, leading and guiding, teaching and correcting. We also walk the road with our brothers and sisters in Christ. They help and encourage us, challenge and uplift us, teach and mentor us. And we do the same for others.

In verses 21 and 22 Paul tells us to “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil”. We are to allow the Spirit to do its work, yes, but we too must be an active participant on our own journey of faith. We are called to test things and situations and people against the truths of God. When unsure on our own, we turn to prayer and to good Christian counsel. We must hold onto the good – keeping those things and practices and people that help us stay close to Jesus and on the path of following him, well, close to us. Paul also admonishes us to avoid evil – don’t go to those places, events, web sites… that cause temptation, don’t hang out with those folks who cause you to sin…

As he closes Paul prays that God would “sanctify” or make us holy and righteous, blameless on the day we stand before the risen Lord. It is the hope for us all. Our passage for today closes with these great words of encouragement: “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it”. God is faithful. He will sanctify the faithful. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for these great reminders today. In the Spirit, walk with me day by day, being present until I meet you face to face. Amen.