pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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Leaning into God

Reading: Job 23: 1-9 and 16-17

Verse 7: “There an upright man could present his case before God.”

Photo credit: Jeremy Thomas

At the end of the week we return to Job. He has experienced great loss and hardship. His friends have accused him of sinning and have condemned him for not repenting. They have told him that he deserves the punishment that has come. While his friends and the world around him see Job’s situation one way, Job sees it differently. Job knows that he is innocent, that he has not sinned or done anything wrong, that he does not deserve what has befallen him. But this is his reality. It does not make sense in his mind. Why would God curse an innocent man and his family? Job knows that all would be made right if he could have an audience with God. In verse seven he says, “There an upright man could present his case before God.” Job may not understand why all this has happened to him and he may be puzzled by God’s felt absence, but his heart still believes that God is in control and that his Redeemer will redeem him.

In the depth of the valley, when we are in the throws of despair, it can be hard to hold onto God and onto our faith. As the time drags on and we’ve searched for God as Job did – in the north and south, to the east and west – we too can feel the darkness closing in around us. We know that God is always there. Our long walk of faith has proven God’s presence. In verse twelve Job says, “I have not departed from the commands of God’s lips; I have treasured the words of God’s mouth more than my daily bread.” More than anything, Job is reminding himself of his faith and of his long walk with God. Job is making the choice to remember who and what God is even though it doesn’t feel like it in the present moment. Shortly God will come around. God will speak. God always does. May we ever lean into this reality, especially when we find ourselves in the places of trial and suffering. May it be so.

Prayer: God, you are always watching, always seeing. At times we feel all alone. Even then, though, you are there. Help us to trust when we can’t see and to lean in anyway when we can’t feel your presence. Remind us that even then we are in the palm of your hand. Keep us strong in our faith. Amen.


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Once Foreigners

Reading: 1 Kings 8: 1, 6, 8-10, 22, and 41-43

Verses 41-43: “As for the foreigner… when he comes and prays toward the temple, then hear from heaven… that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you”.

The start of today’s passage reads like a fast-moving action story. The temple is built so Solomon summons all the leaders and priests for the installation of the ark of the covenant. The ark contains the Ten Commandments and represents God’s presence. Once placed in the Holy of Holies the temple is filled with a cloud, representing the glory of the Lord. God fills the temple. Solomon then stands to address and pray for the people. In the interceding verses, 23-40, he prays for those times when Israel will need God to intercede on their behalf: when they need a new king, when they need a judge, when the enemy comes, when draught or famine strikes, when sin enters their lives.

Returning to our reading for today, in verses 41-43, Solomon offers this prayer: “As for the foreigner… when he comes and prays toward the temple, then hear from heaven… that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you”. Solomon is praying for those who not yet know God. He is lifting up those who will become known as ‘Gentiles’ – all non-Jews, the outsiders. For one who lived many years before Jesus, this is a radical and progressive prayer. To see beyond what was and to pray for the foreigner is an example of the wisdom that God blessed Solomon with. As Israel prospers, other nations will recognize God’s presence and blessing. Some will come to learn of this God for themselves. Solomon prays that God will connect with these folks, hearing their prayers and sending them back home to share God with others. He is praying for believers to be made and then to go back home to make more believers.

Roughly 1,000 years later this will be the model for the newly forming church. People foreign to Jesus will come to know him and will believe in him as Lord and Savior. Some will be Jews and others will be actual foreigners. Just as you and I were once foreigners, these too will be filled with the Holy Spirit and will go forth to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul, Timothy, Silas, and many more will travel far and wide, helping others to know and fear the Lord. We too take up this mantle, seeking to make disciples of all peoples. In this sense, Solomon was praying for you and for me. We were once foreigners but now have come to believe and are sent out into the world to live out our faith so that others may come to believe. This day may it be so for us all!

Prayer: Lord God, it amazes me that long before Christ one of your chosen leaders was praying for what we know as the Great Commission. As Solomon prayed, use me today thanks be a part of bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. Amen.


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Trust, Believe

Reading: John 6: 51-55

Verse 54: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day”.

Photo credit: Thong Vo

After the feeding of the 5,000 the crowds once again engage Jesus. Earlier in chapter six Jesus speaks of being the “bread of life”. The people ask for a miracle similar to the manna that their ancestors ate in the desert. They want Jesus to feed them again just as God had done day after day for forty years. Jesus has much more to offer than basic food. In our opening verse Jesus explains that just as manna came down from heaven that he too has come down from heaven. Partaking in Jesus, the living bread, he says, will lead to eternal life.

As Jesus continues he confuses his audience. In verse 54 he says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day”. Eat flesh? Drink blood? If we did not know what communion was all about we would be confused too. As post-resurrection people we understand the eating and drinking and what Jesus speaks of concerning rising up. As Christians we know that salvation comes through partaking in Jesus Christ. We live daily into the promise of eternal life. Those that Jesus spoke to in this passage did not know any of this. With this new teaching Jesus was trying to lead them to a leap of faith.

When have you been at a place like this? Perhaps it was reading a passage of scripture that confused you. Maybe it was at a time when God was inviting you to do something new that took trust and faith. On our journeys of faith we all reach places like the crowd came to in today’s passage. Sometimes our faith calls us to trust even into the unknown, to believe when we do not yet understand. In those times may we walk forward in faith, trusting fully in the bread of life, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, when the way is unclear, guide my steps. When my mind can’t quite grasp your message, lead me on. When my heart is hesitating, encourage me anyway. In each moment of doubt or fear, gird me up. Amen.


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Bread of Life

Reading: John 6: 41-51

Verse 47: “I tell you the truth he who believes has everlasting life”.

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

As Jesus explains who he is and what he offers to those who believe in him as the Messiah some in the crowd doubt. They cannot see past what they know – “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph”? How can he be born of God – came down from heaven – if we know his parents? With words alone Jesus cannot convince them of who he is and what he offers.

Jesus goes on to explain that no one comes to believe in him unless drawn to him by God. Quoting from Psalm 78 Jesus reminds them that those who listen to the father come to learn and then are drawn to Jesus. When I consider my faith journey I see the truth of Jesus’ words. He is talking about and inviting his audience and us into a personal relationship. Just reading the Bible or even talking to other Christians does not make us have faith. Most often this learning is the start of our journey of faith but the “knowledge” must move from head to heart. The working of God alone – sometimes in big steps but most often in tiny steps – leads us to accept the truth that Jesus speaks: “he who believes has everlasting life”. As we draw near and worship the bread of life today may we seek to deepen our relationship with the Lord.

Prayer: Lord, draw me in deeper today. Connect me to you in a personal and meaningful way as I worship today. Amen.