pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Faith Asks…

Reading: Luke 17:5-6

Verse 6: “He replied, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…'”

Today we focus on the first 2 verses of this week’s gospel reading. The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. They are trying to quantify something that cannot be quantified. It is as if their faith were kept in small bottles and they thought that Jesus could give them one more scoop. Well then, why not 2 or 20 scoops?

Faith is not “changeable.” You believe Jesus died and paid the price for your sins or you don’t. You believe that Jesus rose from the grave to show the way to eternal life or you don’t. You believe that God loves you and has good plans for you or you don’t. You believe Jesus will come again to make all things new or you don’t.

Faith is also not “easy.” The natural challenges and hardships of life can cause doubt. The ways of the world can try and pull us away from God’s truths. The decisions we make and the sins we commit can reflect our fleshy human nature more so than the image of God within us. We are imperfect and faulty people. Being faithful is sometimes hard.

Jesus responds to the disciples by saying, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey.” Wow. That’s like walking on water stuff, Jesus. Yes it is. Jesus is saying that faith is not something you can acquire more of. Faith asks that we trust and obey. Faith asks that we step forward, knowing that God goes with us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, I believe in salvation, forgiveness, redemption – all examples of your great love for me. Help me to trust when doubt creeps in, to stay the course when temptation rises up, to cling to you when my human nature says to run. In my weakness, be my strength, O Lord. Amen.


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Commit All

Reading: Luke 12:54-56

Verse 56: “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?”

Jesus just finished talking about bringing fire and division and about how deciding to follow him will come with some costs. Today, Jesus calls out the peoples’ unwillingness to take this step. In verses 54 and 55 Jesus acknowledges the ability that they have developed in reading the signs for the coming weather. Having a good idea of when it will rain or when it’ll get hot was vital information for an agrarian society. Their livelihood depended upon this ability.

Jesus has been with the people for quite a while now. Day after day he has been teaching, performing miracles, and living as an example of God’s kingdom here on earth. He has provided an abundance of signs telling who he is. Yet most people are unwilling to commit their lives to following Jesus. He slams into them, saying, “Hypocrites!” Going on he asks, “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?” They can literally see the signs. Yet they choose not to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

What keeps them from making this choice? I think it is the same thing for many today. It is also the same thing that keeps many “lukewarm” instead of “on fire” for Jesus. There is a fear of what we will become, of how Jesus will change our life. Make no mistake, Jesus will wreck us. He came not to bring peace, but fire and division.

In some ways it is easier and safer to say “no” to Jesus. The walk of faith is hard – the road is narrow. It runs counter to the ways of the world so faith calls us to be different, to stand out. Jesus stood out because he was radically different from the world. But we can try to blend in, to be lukewarm. We can allow Jesus to make a difference in our lives while trying to draw the line just short of allowing God to use us however to make a difference in the world. I think this choice draws the same slam from Jesus.

May it not be so for you and for me. May we instead choose to commit all of ourselves to the radical way of Christ, to the way of humble service and unconditional love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to surrender more and more of my self to your will and way. Use me as you will this day. Amen.

PS – Then do it again tomorrow…


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Enough?

Reading: Luke 12:13-21

Verse 19: “I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.'”

Photo credit: Conner Baker

This week’s parable is about greed. It begins with a younger brother asking Jesus to help him get his share of the estate now. Jesus states that he’s not in the arbitration business and gives a warning against greed. For emphasis Jesus states that life isn’t really about having abundant possessions. Many today would look at Jesus like this man must have. So Jesus tells a story to illustrate his points.

In the parable a rich man has a really, really great harvest. What to do? His barns are not big enough to hold all this blessing. So he decided to build bigger barns. Store more! Then he says to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.” Celebrate and party and enjoy life! He has reach some magical goal.

In one way we are like this man. We store up and we store up. We get more and more stuff. We sack away more and more money in the bank or retirement fund. In another, more critical way, we are different. Most of us never reach the point of “enough.” We gather and store and sack away but never feel like we quite have enough. That feeling has an underlying cause. We don’t truly believe that God will be enough. We don’t quite trust that God will provide for all of our needs. One day our life will be demanded too. Will we be rich enough towards God?

Prayer: Lord God, when those doubts and worries creep into my mind, remind me that your love never ends. Help me to trust into your plans for me, both now and into the future. Let me rest in that. Amen.


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One More Sign…

Reading: John 14:8-17 and 25-27

Verse 8: “Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.'”

In John 14 we begin with Philip’s request of Jesus: “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus has literally just told them that he is “the way and the truth and the life” and that no one comes to the Father except through him. In a way, knowing that Jesus just made this declaration, it makes Philip’s request even harder to hear. Philip and the other disciples have seen and heard over and over and over again that Jesus is one with God. They have witnessed the power of God through the words and actions of Jesus time and time again. Philip wants one more sign. Will that one be enough?

If Philip is anything like me, it will not be enough. I may not have walked by Jesus’ side, but there is more than enough evidence for me to believe and trust in Jesus. The Biblical account lays out who and what Jesus is: God incarnate. The gospels paint a crystal clear picture of how I am called to live and love. Over and over again in my life, Jesus has become a tangible presence to me, assuring me of his love for me. Most of the time I have no doubt that Jesus is the only way, truth, and life.

Yet sometimes, even after a close encounter with Christ, I can doubt or question or want one more sign. I can wonder if Jesus will be with me this time too. I can be like Philip. After all these years, I can need one more sign, one more showing. I, like Philip, am a work in progress. We all are. Yet God remains faithful, even in our doubt and questioning. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, forgive me for my inability to fully trust and believe all the time. Thank you for your constant and steadfast nature, for the love that remains even when mine wavers. Thank you for one more reminder today. Amen.


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Tell Us Plainly

Reading: John 10:22-24

Verse 24: “How long will you keep us in suspense?”

In our passage from John 10, Jesus is walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. It is an enclosed area in the temple. Many Jews gather around Jesus, seeking to know more about him. I can imagine this question blurted out, part in curiosity, part in frustration, part in release: “How long will you keep us in suspense?” Do the Jews long to know better the mystery of who Jesus is? From the gospels, which are accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings, we get an excellent idea of who Jesus is. Taken together they paint a great picture of who and what Jesus was and is. Yet they pale in comparison to actually living with Jesus.

Jesus walked and talked and lived among these people. For 3 years. They had much greater access to Jesus and his teachings than we do. Yet they ask, “How long…?” Do they really want to know who and what Jesus is? Or do they want him to conform to their idea of a Messiah? Their statement, also in verse 24, reveals the answer to their question: “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Jesus has told and told all with ears to hear that he is the Christ. He has shown and shown all with eyes to see that he is the Christ. Jesus has entered into relationship with all who have open hearts. And yet they do not believe.

So today I ask: In what ways have you come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world?

Prayer: Lord God, this day may you use me to open ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to receive. Doing so, may others come to believe in the only one who can save. Amen.


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3 Lessons

Reading: Acts 9:36-43

Verse 39: “Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room.”

Photo credit: Shane

Today’s passage from Acts 9 is a miraculous story. And it also contains guidance for you and me.

As the passage begins Tabitha becomes ill and dies. Luke shares that she “was always doing good and helping the poor.” She was a model of the faith, a generous and humble servant. Tabitha was deeply loved by her community of faith and by those in need. Grief came upon those who loved her.

Hearing that Peter was nearby, the believers sent for him, urging him to “Please come at once!” In verse 39 we see his response: “Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room.” We do not know about Peter’s connection to Joppa or to this church or to Tabitha. What we do know is that he went at once to his brothers and sisters in need. This is lesson 1 for us.

When he arrives, Peter gives attention to those present, to those who are mourning. They want to show him their connection to Tabitha, to demonstrate the love that they shared. Peter allowed them to express their grief. Lesson 2 for us.

Lastly, Peter responded. He became present to the one that was so beloved. And he prayed. While the outcome was miraculous, the lesson remains: Peter prayed for the situation. In those times when we find ourselves unsure of what to do, may we also turn to the one who knows all things. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to be a loving and comforting presence in times of need or loss. Give me the courage to enter those difficult places and spaces; help me to trust in you alone. There, make my words your words, my hands your hands, my heart your heart. Amen.


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Overjoyed

Reading: John 20:19-31

Verse 20: “He showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”

In our gospel passage Jesus appears twice to the disciples – once without Thomas and once with him there. Both encounters have some of the same elements. In spite of locked doors, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you.” It was both a greeting and an assurance. Then, both times, he offers witness to who he is by showing them his hands and his side. This visual proof brings great joy to the disciples. Thomas voices it out loud, saying, “My Lord and my God!” We can assume that similar responses came during the first visit amongst the disciples.

At least part of their great joy comes from knowing that Jesus suffered for them. Another source of joy is the tangible reminder that God came in the flesh to experience what we experience. Suffering is a part of all of our lives. To know that God incarnate willingly took on suffering for us – that reveals a great love for you and for me. With Thomas we too can joyfully exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

Speaking towards the many who will come to faith without the visual proof that the disciples received, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We, of course, have the written witness to Jesus contained in both the Old and New Testaments. And we have those experiences, those moments, when Jesus’ presence became real and tangible to us during our suffering. These are personal proofs that Jesus is alive and is present to us. May we too be overjoyed each time we see the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, I am grateful, I am overjoyed as I recall the times when you were a tangible presence in my life. In each experience you were comfort, strength, assurance. Thank you for remaining a part of our world and my life. Amen.


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Anyone and Everyone?

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:16-17

Verse 16: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.”

Photo credit: Josh Calabrese

We begin our exploration of 2nd Corinthians 5:16-21 with the first two verses. These verses are really about how we see and treat one another. Each verse addresses what we could call a group of people. Here we need to be careful with our labels. They can too easily take on an “us” and a “them” feel. On the surface level, the implied groups are people outside the church and people within the church. If it were this simple there would be the folks in our churches and all others would be people we want to add to our churches. This would mirror how Jesus saw the world – either you believed or you were someone he wanted to bring to belief.

When Paul writes, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” he is encouraging the church to see as Jesus sees. He is calling them to drop the judging and comparing that easily comes with labels. To Paul it did not matter if you were rich or poor, young or old, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, Roman or Greek… What mattered was if you knew Jesus or not. Like Jesus, Paul saw all people as beloved children of God. Some just hadn’t become a part of the family yet. The goal was to change that.

In verse 17 Paul describes why this is the goal. Here he writes, “if anyone is in Christ” – if anyone becomes part of the family of God – “he is a new creation; the one is gone, the new has come!” Accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, one is changed. The old desires of the world become desire to love, to serve, to learn and grow in the faith. Hope abounds and joy flourishes as one sees and lives as Jesus did. Again, this is the goal for all people everywhere.

So here it is: how are we and how are our churches doing with meeting this goal? Would anyone and everyone that walks into your life or into your church feel that their salvation was clearly and far away the main goal?

Prayer: Lord God, continue to hone my vision. Continue to guide me to see more as you see, to become better at seeking to connect others to you. Shape my words and actions to draw others to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.


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May We Too Believe

Reading: Genesis 15:1-6

Verse 5: “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them… So shall your offspring be.”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

At 75 Abram was called by God to leave Haran, the place he had lived all his life, to travel to an unknown land. Abram and company traveled until God told them they’d arrived. There Abram built an altar and gave an offering to God. Years later God comes to Abram in a vision and says, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your great reward.” Children were seen as one’s reward. One’s impact, one’s legacy, one’s worth was evaluated through their offspring. Abram says to God, “but I remain childless.”

We can find ourselves saying something along these lines. Our struggle may be having children too. It may be finding love or contentment in a relationship. It may be finding fulfillment and satisfaction in our work. It may be limited resources even when we’ve been so faithful. It may be illness or unwanted change even as we’ve sought to be righteous and humble. We too can, do, and will say, “but… um… God?”

In response to Abram’s questions and doubts, God takes him outside and says, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them… So shall your offspring be.” Have you ever tried counting the stars? “If indeed you can count them…” It is impossible. To Abram, that task could feel as impossible as him having descendants like those stars. God was inviting Abram to see with God’s eyes, to trust in God’s vision.

When God asks us to be faithful in where we’re being led, to see with God’s eyes, are we willing? Do we choose to trust the path that God is asking us to step onto? If our eyes remain focused on the seemingly impossible that God has laid before us, we will not experience the miraculous that God has in store. In his moment with God, Abram chose to believe. God credited Abram with righteousness. In our moment, may we too believe.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the courage to step forward in faithful witness. Give me eyes to see your possibilities, trusting in you alone. Amen.


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Because He Lives

Reading: 1st Corinthians 15:12-20

Verse 20: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

As we continue in 1st Corinthians today we read about another division in the church that Paul has to address. There is disagreement around the resurrection of the dead. There is no discord surrounding Jesus’ resurrection. That is sure. The conflict revolves around what happens to regular folks, especially the followers of Jesus. Different understandings about life after death were common at this time. This issue, for example, was the primary split between the Sadducees and Pharisees.

Paul speaks first to those arguing that there is no resurrection of the dead. He argued that if this were the case then Jesus was not resurrected either. In this case, Paul states, “our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Resurrection – new life after this earthly life is over – is central to our understanding of Christianity. Resurrection gives us hope; it is how God will one day make us and all of creation new again, restoring all to wholeness and perfection. This is a process we experience daily as well. Each day our faith draws us closer and closer to Christ and his example. As John Wesley said, we are “ever going on to perfection.” The simple fact that Christ continues to live in our hearts lends credence to the resurrection.

Paul also recognizes that if Jesus did not rise, then he did not defeat the power of sin either. That means that “you are still in your sins.” Without resurrection, Paul argues, the atoning sacrifice has not been made. He connects the victory over death to the victory over sin. Both came through the single action of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our passage concludes with this summarizing statement: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Witnesses bear it out. Paul just went through this list in verses 5-8. For Paul, because Jesus lives, one day all who believe will live too. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, thank you for the hope you give in this life and for the life to come. Thank you too for the presence of the Holy Spirit, the indwelling, personal part of Christ alive in me. Amen.