pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Stumbling Unbelief

Reading: Mark 6: 1-6

Verse 6: “He was amazed at their unbelief”.

As we begin with Mark 6 today Jesus returns home to Nazareth. Jesus had lived there for most of thirty years. He was a local kid that almost everyone knew. Most of his family still lived there. On the Sabbath Jesus goes to the local synagogue and begins to teach. As the people take in what Jesus is teaching about, they are “astounded”. His teaching is good; they are impressed.

But then they begin to question, to ask how Jesus acquired such knowledge, such power. They ask, “Is this not the carpenter”? Isn’t this just the kid who grew up down the street? Isn’t that the one who our daughter babysat back in the day? In the original Greek, the word Mark used to describe what was going on here was “skandalizo”. You might recognize the root word here. In the Greek it meant to ‘stumble’. Jesus had and would continue to cause many to stumble, to turn away, to leave the faith that they had found in him.

To his credit, Jesus recognizes what is going on here. He does not get angry or resentful. He understands it for what it is as he identifies the cause of their unbelief. He says, “Prophets are not without honor except in their hometown”. Because of this Jesus’ power is limited. He is unable to do any “deeds of power” except a few small healings. We too can dismiss Jesus’ power at times. We can withhold our needs from him. We can think Jesus unable or unwilling to respond to our prayers and petitions. When unbelief and doubt rises in our hearts, we too rend power from Jesus. In our passage today, we see that Jesus was “amazed at their unbelief”. When we are tempted to limit Jesus, may we hear the warning in today’s passage, lest we stumble too.

Prayer: Lord God, when doubt creeps in, when the world begins to speak into my spirit, call me back with your gentle whisper. Draw me back into close relationship with my Savior and Lord. Amen.


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Holy Spirit Filled

Reading: Acts 2: 14-21

Verse 17: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people”.

Photo credit: Emily Crawford

In our passage for today Peter responds to the amazed and perplexed crowd. They are amazed by the word of God that has been placed in their hearts and are perplexed by the means of receiving this word. Amazed and perplexed is an uncomfortable place to be. Some in the crowd try and wiggle out of this place, trying to dismiss this phenomenon to “too much wine”. Peter quickly dismisses this notion and turns to scripture to explain what has just happened. Using scripture to make sense of this experience to the Jews, the people of the book, is Spirit inspired. It is perfect. Peter connects something they know well to something new that they just experienced to help them make sense of their new reality.

Joel speaks of all people – men and women, young and old, even servants – receiving the Holy Spirit. Filled, they will dream dreams, have visions, and prophesy. The same Holy Spirit fills us with all of these things. Joel also speaks of blood, fire, smoke, and darkness. These signs and wonders are symbolic of change. There is a present reality as well as a future promise to these words. The present reality is that Spirit led disciples will work for the transformation of the world. The future promise is that Jesus Christ will one day return in glorious fashion to complete this transformation, making all things new.

You and I are called to live at the intersection of Joel’s words. You, me, and all disciples are called to be Spirit led Christians seeking to transform lives and this world. Our work foremost is to love God and one another. It includes making our world a more just and equitable place. Our work calls us to be humble servants and bold proclaimers of truth. Led by the Spirit we too will be transformed as we transform those around us as we bring the kingdom of God to earth. May you and I be filled with the Holy Spirit each day, bringing love, hope, peace, justice, mercy, and salvation in the name of the Lord. May it be so!

Prayer: God and Spirit in one, fill me with your powerful wind today. Rush into my heart and then lead and guide me to do your work in this time and place. Use me to draw others into your love and saving grace today. Amen.


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Reverence and Awe

Reading: Psalm 111

Verse 2: “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them”.

Psalm 111 is all about praising God. We can be drawn to praise in a variety of ways. Two days ago, for example, my wife and I were on a hike. There was about four inches of snow blanketing the ground. The sky was so blue. At times we would pause – sometimes along the path after a long uphill stretch and sometimes at a place that afforded a view. At both kinds of stops we were amazed by God’s creation. Along the path we stopped and could take in the small details and could hear all of the quiet sounds of nature. At the viewing stops, we could see out across the plains to the east or we could look west across the rolling hills covered in snow and pines. Here we could sense God’s grandeur and the majesty of creation. Here too we were reminded of our awesome God. We were able to praise God for the work of his hands.

In verse two the psalmist declares: “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them”. On Sunday afternoon it was God’s creation that led us to delight in him. On Sunday morning it was a man’s testimony about God’s work on a mission trip that led us to praise and delight. In the first half of Psalm 111, God’s grace and compassion and provision are what draws the writer to praise God. These gifts of God are wrapped in the covenant, which also connects to the reasons to praise God found in the second half of the Psalm. Working out the covenant to Abraham, the psalmist remembers how God gave them the Promised Land. Recalling the steadfastness, faithfulness, and uprightness of God, the psalmist looks to the redemption that God provides, ordaining his covenant forever. Here I connect to the Psalm most personally. The redemption of God came in the person of Jesus, he who established the new covenant forever through his blood shed on the cross.

The Psalm closes by reminding us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. In the Biblical sense, fear is not being afraid of God. It is a fear in terms of reverence and awe. It was what I felt as I was awestruck gazing out at the scene pictured above. It is what you have felt when you have been caught by God’s power or love or grace at different times in your life. As our response today, may we too offer words of thanksgiving and praise to the Lord our God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the many, many times when I have been amazed by your great works. These revelations, these epiphanies, are such a blessing. You are an amazing and awesome God! Amen.


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Prophets

Reading: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

Verse 18: “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him”.

In today’s passage we see some long term planning. In order to continue to help the people walk faithfully with God, he will raise up prophets like Moses to teach and guide them. In their desert experience, the people were amazed at God’s power and authority, but they were also afraid of God. They feared talking directly with God. They thought only Moses could do so and live. So they asked God for an intermediary, for a prophet to communicate God’s words to the people. God appreciates their idea and decides to continue to raise up prophets like Moses to be his voice to the people. In verse eighteen God says, “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him”. Prophets will speak on behalf of God, using the words God gives them. They will be an extension of God’s power and authority. Joshua, Samuel, Nathan, Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, Malachi, Ezekiel, the judges, Isaiah, Daniel… – just a small sampling of God’s prophets.

We are in the season of Epiphany, the season that celebrates the revelation of God incarnate in Jesus Christ. The season begins with the visit of the wise men – the first Gentiles to worship Jesus Christ. Jesus is, of course, in the line of prophets in the human sense. God in the flesh lived among us and spoke God’s words to the people, guiding and teaching them (and us) how to live faithfully with God and with one another. As we learn his ways and as we seek to become more and more like Jesus, we ourselves are living out epiphany – revealing Jesus to the world through our words and actions that reveal Christ alive in us. Today and every day, in all we are, in all we say and do, may we share Jesus with others. In this season, may our very lives celebrate Jesus among us, the living word, God in the flesh, the giver of life. As we live into the fullness of our faith, may others come to know Jesus.

Prayer: Living God, today I thank you first for the prophets, each who came and spoke your word. Each has much to offer us today. I also thank you for Jesus, the fullest revelation of your love and power and authority and might. May he reign each day in my life. Amen.


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Praying Today

Reading: Acts 2: 12-15

Verse 12: “Amazed and perplexed they asked on another, ‘What does this mean”’?

The Jews from all over the world were drawn to the place where the Holy Spirit manifested itself and they heard these Galileans speaking God’s wonders in many languages. Many were amazed and perplexed. These asked, “What does this mean”? What was God saying to them? Yet there were others in the crowd. Jesus would describe these as those without ears to hear. They did not want to recognize the fact that God was at work and they wanted to dismiss the whole thing, accusing the believers of being drunk.

There have been several nights of violence and protest in the city of Minneapolis. Much of it represents the outpouring of emotions long felt in the African American community. The trigger was the murder of an innocent man. A vast, vast, vast percentage of the police force in Minneapolis would absolutely condemn the actions of the officer responsible for the death. We hope that it would be all, but we know that this is not the reality. Racism exists. Some would say it is better than it used to be. Perhaps it is less frequent and it probably infects less people today, but it will only be better when racism is gone.

A few summers ago a few fellow students and I were walking to the frozen custard place. Suddenly a police car driving by us turned on its lights and siren and drove part way up onto the sidewalk. The two officers leapt from the car in hot pursuit. Almost all of us became instant lookie-loos. We wanted to see what the officers were up to. In a class at the seminary we had been discussing racism in America. As we sat and enjoyed our custard like nothing had just happened, one in our group said, ‘You guys just don’t get it’. He went on to share that while our first reaction was to be curious onlookers, his first reaction was to run. He had done nothing wrong and knew it full well. Yet his brain said to run. He did well in school all his life and had never had a run-in with the police. Yet his first instinct was to run. His Latino upbringing had instilled that response in him. I finally felt how deeply ingrained racism was in our society.

This morning in Minneapolis, ad it has been the last two days, there are volunteers cleaning up the mess. They are black and white, brown and all shades of humanity’s beauty. They too ask, ‘What does this mean’? and they know that there must be change in our society. They are investing in one another and in their city. They are teaching their children well. They see visions and dream dreams about a better community – one without racism and hatred. May we join their actions today by praying for healing in our nation and for an end to these evils.

Prayer: Lord of all, I pray today for the healing of my nation and of my community. May the voices of love and empowerment and equality rise up and speak long after the grief and outrage have faded away. Continue the conversation and the learning that we are all created in your image until all forms of racism and oppression are no more. God, bless and heal our nation. Amen.


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Moments of Glory

Reading: John 11: 28-45

Verse 40: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God”?

Expectations are a funny thing. When life is good, when things are going well, our expectations are reasonable. We trust that God is in control and we are usually content and at peace. But when a time of trial or unwanted change comes upon us, our expectations can suddenly change. We see these two scenarios lived out in the relationship between Jesus and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Most visits were unrecorded – just pleasant stops on the way here or there filled with good food and good conversation. Early on there was the incident with Martha – the sister that expected Mary to help with the work. Jesus’ expectations were different though. And then there was the time that Mary chose to care for Jesus’ feet. Some present were upset with her, but, again, Jesus’ expectations were different. To him, her action was a gift of preparation.

Today’s story is full of expectations. Mary mirrors Martha’s expectation, saying, “Lord, if you had been here…”. The crowd expected that Jesus would have saved Lazarus. Martha protests moving the stone. She expects death to go unchanged. In the midst of all this Jesus maintains the expectation that he shared with the disciples before they left for Bethany. In verse forty he says to Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God”? Jesus still expects the glory of God to be revealed to the sisters, to the disciples, to the crowd of mourners. Letting them know something is about to happen he thanks God for what is about to be done. Jesus calls out and Lazarus walks out of the grave. In a flash the decay and stench are gone as the breath of life is restored.

At moments in our faith journey we too have these experiences. When we walk with God we too have moments when God does the unexpected, when God breathes new life into our stench and decay. Like all that were there that day outside the tomb, we too stand amazed as God’s glory is once again revealed. In those moments we too hear those words of Jesus: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God”? With joy and praise and awe on our lips, we are amazed by our God – the one who seems to have a habit of going above and beyond our expectations. May we praise that God today.

Prayer: Lord, today as we gather and recall what you did in the valley of dry bones and what you did outside the tomb, may we also reflect on how you bring each of us new life over and over. As we praise and worship you today, may our faith grow. Amen.


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Sharing Our Story

Reading: Acts 2: 5-21

Verse 17: “In the last days, I will pour out my Holy Spirit on all people”.

In the opening chapter of Acts, Jesus ascends to heaven and the disciples choose Matthais to replace Judas, once again bringing the number of disciples to twelve.  Just before ascending, Jesus tells them that they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem and that they will be “my witnesses… to the ends of the earth”.  Acts 2 opens with the coming of the promised Holy Spirit.  It enables the followers of Jesus to speak in other languages.

In today’s passage,they speak in the languages of all those Jews who have come to see what the violent wind meant.  It meant come and hear the good news of Jesus Christ – at least that’s what God purpose for it was!  Amazed and perplexed by what is happening, they asked one another, “What does this mean”?  This was a totally new experience for everyone involved.  Some question what is going on, forcing Peter to stand up to offer an explanation.

Peter connects back to the Old Testament scriptures and to the prophet Joel.  Peter is using what they are familiar with to help them understand what they just experienced.  Peter is an excellent evangelist.  Evangelism 101 tells us that if we want to share Jesus Christ with another, we should first get to know their story.  Jesus also usually followed this basic pattern as well, often getting to know another’s needs.  So we are in good company if our first step of evangelism or mission is to begin to form a relationship with the other.  Peter has a basic relationship with his audience, being a Jew himself.  Sometimes this is the case with us too.  When we share our faith story with someone we know, we usually know some of their story.  In these cases, we can tie our story into their story.

In Acts 2, that is what Peter does.  He uses Joel’s prophetic words to explain what has just happened there that day in Jerusalem.  Joel predicted it, the Jews know the prediction, and now they have witnessed it being fulfilled.  Peter connects the dots to show how God is at work in the world and in their lives.  When we have the chance to share our faith story, we too must connect the story of what Jesus has done in our lives with the vision of what He could do in the life of the one we are ministering to.  This day, may we seek an opportunity to be a witness to our faith, opening the door for another to take a step of faith.  May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to find opportunity today to share my faith.  May my story connect with another, helping them to step towards a relationship with Jesus Christ, your Son.  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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New But Unchanging

Reading: Mark 1: 21-28

Verse 27: “What is this? A new teaching – and with authority!”

The people who have been listening to Jesus talk are amazed by both His insights and by the authority with which He teaches. They asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching – and with authority”! Jesus is revealing the scriptures perhaps in a new way, but He is teaching from an old source. We do not know what scroll Jesus is teaching from, but even if it was the newest it is at least 400 years old!

Have you ever read a passage of scripture that you thought you knew fairly well only to discover something fresh or unnoticed jumping out at you? I often wonder how I missed that the last time I read the passage. Have you ever sat down on Sunday, heard a familiar passage read, thought ‘here we go again’, and then had the pastor apply it in a whole new way? Once in a while it even feels like he or she is preaching just to you. Have you ever done your small group homework, come to class feeling confident in your preparations, and then been amazed by someone else’s different but spot-on insights? Yes, indeed, the Word of God is alive and, therefore, it often feels new to us in amazing ways.

Yet at its core, the message of the Bible does not change. The Bible is God’s ongoing love story with generation after generation of sinful and often disobedient children. It seems that no matter what we do, God’s love for us remains steadfast and true. As Jesus enters the story, we gain a fuller understanding of God’s love. In Jesus, we see what God’s love looks like lived out between us. Jesus gives us the model to follow. At the conclusion of Jesus’ earthly time, we see what the ultimate gift of love looks like as Jesus dies for you and me. It was Jesus’ final act of love and service. Through the grave defeated the power of sin and death and made a way for us all to inherit eternal life.

While the Word can be new to us every time we delve in, these core truths remain the same. Our faith foundation will always rest upon God’s love. Yet we are still blessed to experience that love in new ways every day. Thanks be to God for new but unchanging living Word.