pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Touch and See, Question and Wrestle

Reading: Luke 24: 36-43

Verse 39: “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see”.

Photo credit: Jennifer Araujo

What was the last thing you saw or read or heard about that you had to find out more about before you believed or accepted it? For me it was and is a personality test that I learned about on Thursday. It was interesting so I read more about it on my own. I took the test yesterday and am just starting to unpack the results. I am starting to think this could be a useful and helpful tool to understand myself better.

Jesus appears for the third time in Luke’s gospel. The first appearance was to the women outside the tomb and the second was to two followers on the road to Emmaus. The disciples have heard from these folks that Jesus is alive – he is risen! In our reading for today, Jesus appears to the disciples. Hearing that he has risen must have prepared them at least a little bit. Yet when they actually see Jesus, standing among them, they are startled and frightened. Maybe this is a ghost. Jesus senses their doubts. He says, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see”. This physical proof moved them to joy and excitement. But not to full belief.

It would have been a lot to take in. Heads and hearts must have been spinning if not reeling. Jesus slows things down for the disciples. He asks, “Do you have anything here to eat”? He pauses, receives the fish, and eats it in their presence. Jesus joins them in a tangible way, around food and the table. More present to him, Jesus then goes on to explain all that has happened and then to paint the picture of what will soon happen. More on that tomorrow!

Our faith journey is similar to that of these disciples. We hear and even read about Jesus. We experience pastors and teachers and even the Holy Spirit unpacking the scriptures for us. We have times of fear and doubt and questioning. We too are on a journey. We too must take the time to read and study, to explore and wrestle, to touch and see Jesus. Like these disciples, we will be greatly blessed. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Living God, continue to draw me in more and more, deeper and deeper. As I learn and grow, study and wrestle, question and doubt, walk with me, illumine me, refine me. Amen.


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The Journey

Reading: John 20: 25-31

Verse 29: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

Earlier this week we read about Jesus appearing to ten of the eleven disciples. Thomas was not there. As we begin today’s passage, the other disciples tell Thomas, “We have seen the Lord”! Thomas questions this, saying, “Unless I see the nail marks…”. He wants tangible proof that it really was Jesus. Because of this passage, Thomas is sometimes referred to as “Doubting Thomas”.

The reality, though, is the faith involves doubt. On our journey of faith, we will have seasons when we doubt, when we wrestle for answers, when we question God, our faith, ourselves… These are the struggles that often produce growth. It is when we dive deep and wrestle with the things of God that we are refined and encouraged. During a very difficult time in ministry, for example, I questioned deeply and often at first. This led to doubt. Much time was spent in prayer and scripture study. The end result was a better grasp of God’s love and mercy as well as a more solid understanding of the depth and breadth of his love and grace.

Jesus returns to the disciples a week later. Thomas is there. After greeting them, Jesus turns to Thomas and invites him to see and touch the proof. As always, Jesus offers what is needed to draw another closer to God. Seeing the scars, Thomas declares, “My Lord and my God”! It is a heartfelt profession of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

Coming out of that difficult season of ministry, knowing that the living Christ had walked with me and has guided me through, I emerged with a stronger faith and with deeper convictions. God still has a way of meeting us where we are and offering us what we need to continue the journey of faith.

As you continue to seek God and to grow in your faith, may you who have not seen and yet believed be ever moving deeper in your relationship with Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, great is your faithfulness! How vast is your love! Thank you for walking through the hard times, ever reminding me of your presence and guidance. You are so good to me. Thank you. Amen.


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The Power

Reading: John 20: 19-23

Verse 21: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Shortly after Mary Magdalene announces that she has seen the risen Lord, Jesus appears to the disciples. They are gathered together, hiding behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews”. For three years they have lived together almost 24-7. In the blur of less than 24 hours their leader and Lord has been arrested and crucified. As the disciples ponder all this and the news of Mary Magdalene, Jesus appears and offers them his peace. Jesus offers his hands and side as proof – “the disciples are overjoyed”. What a beautiful end to a tragic story!

Next, Jesus does not offer to cash in their healthy 401-3-k. He does not wish them well and send them off into the sunset with a very generous severance package. No, Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”. In reality he is saying, ‘Men who were hiding in fear, be bold and go out to those Jews you fear and proclaim the good news’. Jesus wants them to get back out there, to continue to share the message of God’s love and grace. He has the same expectation of you and me, brother or sister of Christ. Jesus calls us to be witnesses to the good news, fellow beloved children of God almighty.

“With that” commission given Jesus empowers them for the task ahead. Jesus breathes new life into the disciples as he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. The same indwelling holy presence that guided Jesus is now shared with these disciples. The Spirit that led Jesus for three years is now breathed into the disciples so that they can continue the work of building the kingdom of God. When we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, when we ask him to the the Lord of our life, we are empowered by the same Holy Spirit. Through the sharing of our faith and the witness of our lives we are sent out into the world to build the kingdom of God. Inviting and guiding others into relationship with Jesus Christ we offer the opportunity to new life – a life without enslavement to sin and death.

My friends, we too have the power over sin that the disciples exercised. Jesus’ unconditional love and undeserved grace is available to one and all. Each time the Holy Spirit nudges or leads us to share our faith with a lost or broken soul, we hold the power of forgiveness in our hands. How will we exercise this power, this access to love and grace? As we are given opportunity, may we live as resurrection people, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with all we meet. May this be the power that we choose.

Prayer: Lord of life, may your peace reign in my heart and mind. May that peace propel me out into the world to share your love and grace, your good news, with all I meet. May it ever be so. Amen.


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Living the Way

Reading: Philippians 3: 4b-11

Verse 8: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord”.

What little “list” do you have in your head that makes sure you are a good Christian? Is it something like this: church on Sunday, read Bible and pray each day, volunteer at the church bazaar? Maybe too many items? Maybe missing going to small group and doing one mission project a year? This idea is what Paul is getting at in our initial few verses today. Paul lists all the things that appear to make him a great Jew. But these things are just titles or “rules” he followed. The list we may keep is much like Paul’s list. If it is little more than going through the motions, our list is “rubbish”, to use Paul’s word.

In verse eight Paul declares, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord”. Paul knew that doing all the right things, that being who the religious order thought he should be, that checking off all the boxes – it was all for loss until he knew Jesus Christ as Lord. Paul came to know faith ad a matter of the heart, not the head. When his faith was a matter of the mind, he was living to please others. Saul’s faith was transformed one day when he encountered the risen Christ. That day he opened his heart to Christ and invited Jesus to dwell within him. In Matthew 23 Jesus referred to the scribes and Pharisees as “whitewashed tombs”, implying they looked good on the outside but we’re dead on the inside. Paul came to understand that this is who he was. He did and was all the right things according to man, but his faith had no life. Like many still today, he was trying to earn his way into heaven, to check enough boxes to merit entry. He grew to understand that faith was all about living his way into heaven.

For Paul, faith became knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and then trusting into “the power of the resurrection”. This trust allowed grace and mercy to mingle with love. These are matters of the heart, not the mind. It is about Christ dwelling within us. It is about inviting the Spirit to guide of walk of faith and to strengthen our relationship with God day by day, step by step. We, like Paul, will also come to know the joy of sacrifice, of “sharing in his sufferings”. This is what happens when we love God and others more than self. Like Christ and like Paul’s witness, may our walk of faith be both humble and generous so that we may experience the joy of salvation and the gift of abundant life, both in the here and now and one day in eternity. May it be so.

Prayer: God of love and grace, fill my heart with your presence. Fill my steps and words with your love. Transform my heart into a heart for others. Empty me of all that binds me to this earth and its things. May I know the power of your love and the gift of salvation more and more each day. Amen.


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Is, Was, Is to Come

Reading: Revelation 1: 4-8

Verse 8: “I am the alpha and omega, who is and who was, and who is to come”.

The alpha and omega are the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet. Symbolically, Jesus is saying that He was there in the beginning and will be there through the end. Jesus is eternal. When the world was spoken into being, He was there. When sin entered the world, He was there. When the waters again covered the earth, He was there. When the incarnation happened, Jesus became present in a new way. He took on flesh and walked among us. His earthly life ended on the cross, but He remained present, appearing to many of His followers. Jesus ascended after 40 days and returned to the right hand of God. There He intercedes on our behalf, having experienced life on earth. Jesus also imparted a gift to all who believe – the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit, Jesus remains alive in us. As we read today, “Look, He is coming on the clouds”. One day, Jesus will again return to rule over the new heaven and earth. That reign will last forever and ever. Jesus is the Almighty, “who is and who was, and who is to come”.

In each of our lives we also experience Jesus in these ways. We sense the “was” part as we feel the power greater than ourselves, not quite relating to it fully, yet sensing it there. We see the Almighty in nature and in others. We even have our brushes with Him. Some grow up in church and have a gradual, building knowledge of Jesus. Others meet Him suddenly and then begin to learn who He is. Either way there is a point where Jesus becomes “real” and we ask Him into our hearts. Jesus then lives in us through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Then one day – maybe today or tomorrow or many years from now – we are drawn into His eternity. We might go to Him, perhaps He comes to all who remain, coming on the clouds. For each of us, Jesus is the one “who is and who was, and who is to come”. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, your presence has always been a part of the world and it will always be. I am so grateful that you are in my life. Continue to lead and guide me all of my days until that moment when I meet you face to face. Amen.


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Life

Reading: John 20: 24-31

Verse 31: “Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name”.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples, Thomas was not there. He rejoins the group and they tell him that they have “seen the Lord”! It was on the evening of the first day of that week. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus early that morning and He appears to them that evening. We recall that even though the disciples heard Mary’s account and Peter and John witnessed the empty tomb, the disciples are not yet at the point of belief. During this first visit Jesus breathes on them the Holy Spirit and tells them that He is sending them into the world. A lot more goes on here than a quick visit.

Thomas wants proof that it was really Jesus who had been there that evening. He wants physical proof – to see and touch to know that it is Jesus. We have all had or been a part of those “you gotta see this” moments. What is happening or has occurred sounds so outlandish or unbelievable that visual proof is required. When we do see the proof, we scratch our heads, but cannot argue or deny it because we saw it with our own eyes. I think this is where Thomas is. Sounds great, but I need to see to believe. After a week passes, Jesus appears again and offers the scars to Thomas’ touch. Jesus goes on to encourage him, saying, “Stop doubting and believe”. Thomas’ response? “My Lord and my God”!

Jesus uses this as a teaching moment. He acknowledges that because Thomas saw, he was able to believe. Jesus then adds, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. This statement encompasses almost all who come and all who will come to believe in and follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Through the testimony of the Bible and through our own personal encounters with God we have come to believe in Jesus. We are the blessed.

This is the conclusion of this section and of the chapter: “Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name”. By faith we believe. Through belief we find life – life both now and in the time to come. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, thank you for your Word – the Word that lived among us some 2,000 years ago and your Word that continues to live in the pages of the Bible. It is life and life to the full. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Peace Be with You

Reading: John 20: 19-31

Verse 19: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you'”!

The disciples are gathered together, behind locked doors, mourning the loss of Jesus. When one of a close group dies, this is common behavior. There is comfort in grieving together, in knowing you are not alone. Others just outside the circle also come and visit, offering support and presence and love to the group. But the group of disciples are also afraid. They are hiding behind closed doors because they fear what the Jews might do to them. Mary Magdalene has seen the risen Christ and Peter has seen the empty tomb. What all this now means must still feel a bit unsettling to them. Life will not be the same for the disciples.

At times of loss we too experience some of these same emotions and thoughts. While we may not fear other people, we may have a desire to hunker down and shut out the world. Sometimes there is a desire to visit familiar haunts or the scene of the tragedy. After a tragic loss in college I wanted to spend time at her house with her family. Then, after the funeral, I spent lots of time at the grave site. In those places I could feel a palpable desire to remain close. Even though I knew she was gone and life would never be the same, the desire was there. Being near brought a sense of comfort to my inner turmoil and unease over the future and my ‘now what?’ questions.

The disciples must have been feeling and thinking at least all of this when the risen Jesus appears among them. Jesus begins with some simple words: “Peace be with you”. Peace – that is the feeling needed in this situation. Peace – a sense of normalcy and an absence of worry and fear and doubt. Peace is surely what the disciples and followers of Jesus needed.

Jesus offers us the same thing. Whether the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or marriage, an unexpected move, a sudden illness, or many other possible scenarios, we can find ourselves driven to a place of sorrow or insecurity or discomfort. Into all that life can bring, Jesus desires to come and be present to us. There He will say, “Peace be with you”. When we need Jesus the most, He will be there most powerfully. In the hour of need, turn to Jesus and cry out to Him. He will bring you His peace.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for being my peace again and again. I can trust in you. Help me to be a vessel of your peace too – bringing your peace to those in need. Amen.


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Pleasing

Reading: 2 Corinthians 5: 6-10

Verses Nine and Ten: “We make it our goal to please Him… for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ”.

Paul would definitely choose to be “away from the body” and to be with Christ. His life has been one of both fruitful ministry and of trials and sufferings for his faith. He has not quite written the “fought the good fight” passage, but his longing to be with the Lord is growing. Paul looks to the time when he will stand before Jesus and will enter His rest. Yet Paul also knows that he has a purpose to fulfill now.

In our passage today, Paul refers to the idea of living by faith and not by sight. God is not something or someone we can physically touch or see, yet we live within God’s presence. It is something we can feel. God touches and moves within our hearts and minds, assuring us of our faith. While faith cannot be proven or seen or otherwise quantified, our experiences with Jesus and the Holy Spirit are very real in the life of a believer. It is by faith that we live our daily lives. Paul writes, “We make it our goal to please Him”. While in this body, this too is our goal – to live a life worthy of the gospel, one that is holy and pleasing to the Lord.

Paul closes this thought with: “for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ”. This is a reality for all people, believers and non-believers alike. One day we will all appear before the Lord. How we have lived while in the body does matter. Each day may we do what is pleasing to God, like Paul, looking forward to the day when we go to be with the Lord. Amen.