pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Our Path to Follow

Reading: Hebrews 12:18-24

Verse 22: “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As we turn to our section of Hebrews 12 for this week, we begin the first half looking at two journeys. While the destination is the same, the two journeys are quite different. In verses 18-21 the author writes of the journey to Mount Sinai. This was a place that only Moses could tread. Death would come to any person or animal that touched the sacred mountain. Thunder and lightning and fire and smoke were frequently on the mountain. The presence of God was surely there, but the people were terrified of it. Yet out of this came the word of God, spoken by Moses, for the people of God.

In verse 22 there is another journey described: “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.” Mount Zion is the place of angels joyfully singing and of Jesus, “the mediator of a new covenant,” the one who defeated the power of sin and death. What a contrast to approach the “living God” amidst a joyful assembly. There is no fear in this vision or on this journey. And out of this came the firstborn if the church, Jesus Christ, to speak the word of God to the people of God.

There are, of course, other journeys in the Bible. Jonah had a pretty unique journey to God, as did Noah. Jacob and Gideon really wrestled with God. Each of the prophets and people like John the Baptist and Peter and Paul has interesting journeys to God. Each of our journeys are unique to us too. Yet we are all drawn into relationship with the living word, embodied in Jesus Christ and present now to us in the Holy Spirit. There is no more fear, no more dread. The old journey to God was made new in and through Jesus Christ. Mercy, grace, and love have come. Forgiveness and redemption and life are ours. Thanks be to God for Jesus, our path to follow, our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the infinitely better way that you provided through your son, Jesus Christ. You removed the impossible – keeping all of the law – and instead offered your love poured out in Christ. What grace and what love for a sinner like me. Praise be to the Lord! Amen.


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Something Better

Reading: Hebrews 11:39-40

Verse 40: “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would we be made perfect.”

The writer of Hebrews notes that all of these heroes of the faith – from Abel right on up to the time of Jesus – were commended by God for their faithfulness. These men and women lived in faith, striving to walk obediently with God. Yet none received what has been promised. The covenants with Abraham, Moses, David, and Jeremiah remained unfulfilled. Yet the promise of these covenants gave a vision for what God had planned. This vision gave them hope.

In verse 40 we read, “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would we be made perfect.” The new covenant of Jesus Christ is the “something better.” His perfect sacrifice once and for all defeated the power of sin. By paying the price once for all, Jesus opened the way to salvation for all who follow him as Lord and Savior. By rising from the grave, Christ became the first fruit of eternity. Christ left the Holy Spirit as a deposit of our eternal inheritance. The Holy Spirit, Christ in us, has the power to lead and guide us in faithful living here so that one day we can claim our eternal inheritance in heaven, finally being made perfect in Christ. Something better indeed! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ. Through him all will be made new again. I await the day when you join the new heaven and earth. Thank you for so great a love. Amen.


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The In Between

Reading: Matthew 27:57-66

Verse 65: “‘Take a guard,’ Pilate said. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how'”.

Photo credit: Kunj Parekh

Today is Holy Saturday. It is a day in between. We too spend much time “in between” in our lives. Some we are aware of: in between engagement and marriage, in between separation and divorce. In between pregnancy and birth, in between illness and death. In between our old job and our new job, in between a first date and courtship. Some we are not aware of as they are happening. Change is afoot but we do not perceive it. And then it is suddenly here. And some of the time we sense that things are changing but we cannot quite discern the details. In most of these things there is a lot of emotion. In some cases there is excitement, anticipation, joy. In others there is uncertainty, insecurity, fear, angst.

As we read today’s passage, we tend to read it knowing that Sunday is coming. But today – at least for a few minutes – read it from the point of view of the religious leaders, of Pilate. Read it from the upper room or wherever the terrified disciples and followers of Jesus were gathered. Uncertain, insecure, and fearfully the religious authorities ask for a guard to be placed at the tomb. Pilate says, “Take a guard. Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how”. As secure as you know how. That’s how we like life too, isn’t it?

Sit with these emotions for a moment – caught in between all that Jesus Christ said and did and the moment he was laid in the tomb. In between the clear signs of God with him and the words about rising in three days. Venture into the room with Jesus’ people. Find space there in between the sorrow and grief of death and the fear of hearing a knock at the door, in between comforting one another and the thought of a crowd showing up for you too. God’s blessings as you sit some with Holy Saturday.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me into the depth of this day. Draw me into this in between moment in the great arc of faith’s story, to these moments of waiting and feeling. 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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Eternal Salvation

Reading: Isaiah 25: 6-9

Verse 9: “This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Photo credit: Timo Volz

Today is All Saint’s Day so we depart from the lectionary readings for this week to read from Isaiah 25. This church holiday expresses thanks for the saints who have come before. Some churches celebrated this holiday yesterday and some will celebrate this upcoming Sunday as we remember those who impacted our lives of faith.

Our verses from Isaiah speak of a coming day. These words speak of the day when we will all be in the presence of God. For some of us that will be the moment after we draw our last breath here in earth. For some it will be when the clouds roll back and Jesus returns in glory. On that day we will join the Lord at “a feast of rich food for all people’s.” On that day the Lord will “destroy the shroud” – the shroud of death, the shroud of sin, the shroud of hate and evil, the shroud of division… All that separates us from God and from one another will be no more as God “wipes away the tears” and “removes the disgrace” of all the faithful.

For those who have gone on to glory, they have experienced the truth of verse nine. From the other side of the veil they have come to know that “This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” Standing in the glory of the Lord they have had their trust fulfilled. They have begun to rejoice in their eternal salvation. God’s mercy, grace, and love have carried them through this life and on into the glorious presence of the Lord.

Yes, there is a sadness to All Saint’s Day as we are reminded of our human loss. There is also a great joy as we celebrate those who have attained their eternal rest and as we look forward to feasting at the heavenly banquet and praising the Lord for our eternal salvation. Thanks be to God for the mercy, grace, and love that sees us through this life and on into glory.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for each saint who has helped shape and form my faith. Thank you for those who have poured faith into my heart. Use me to pour faith into the lives of others each day. Amen.


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Eternal Salvation

Reading: Isaiah 25: 6-9

Verse 9: “This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Photo credit: Timo Volz

Today is All Saint’s Day so we depart from the lectionary readings for this week to read from Isaiah 25. This church holiday expresses thanks for the saints who have come before. Some churches celebrated this holiday yesterday and some will celebrate this upcoming Sunday as we remember those who impacted our lives of faith.

Our verses from Isaiah speak of a coming day. These words speak of the day when we will all be in the presence of God. For some of us that will be the moment after we draw our last breath here in earth. For some it will be when the clouds roll back and Jesus returns in glory. On that day we will join the Lord at “a feast of rich food for all people’s.” On that day the Lord will “destroy the shroud” – the shroud of death, the shroud of sin, the shroud of hate and evil, the shroud of division… All that separates us from God and from one another will be no more as God “wipes away the tears” and “removes the disgrace” of all the faithful.

For those who have gone on to glory, they have experienced the truth of verse nine. From the other side of the veil they have come to know that “This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” Standing in the glory of the Lord they have had their trust fulfilled. They have begun to rejoice in their eternal salvation. God’s mercy, grace, and love have carried them through this life and on into the glorious presence of the Lord.

Yes, there is a sadness to All Saint’s Day as we are reminded of our human loss. There is also a great joy as we celebrate those who have attained their eternal rest and as we look forward to feasting at the heavenly banquet and praising the Lord for our eternal salvation. Thanks be to God for the mercy, grace, and love that sees us through this life and on into glory.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for each saint who has helped shape and form my faith. Thank you for those who have poured faith into my heart. Use me to pour faith into the lives of others each day. Amen.


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The Gift of Life

Reading: 2nd Samuel 18: 31-33

Verse 33: “The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

As we continue in 2nd Samuel 18 David awaits news of Absalom and the battle. The first report has come from Ahimaz in the proceeding verses. He shares that David’s forces were victorious. But he shares no news of Absalom. In our passage the Cushite arrives and answers David’s inquiry about Absalom with these words: “May the enemies of my lord and king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man”. The Cushite is excited and joyous over the victory that has been won. David’s response is different.

In verse 33 we read, “The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept”. David, the father, is heartbroken. David, the king, cannot celebrate the victory that has ended the civil war. David, the lord, cannot welcome home those who have fought hard for this day. The grief is too great. Grief can be consuming. It can paralyze us. Grief can isolate us. It can leave us feeling empty inside. David can do nothing but immediately withdraw and weep for his son. He expresses the desire to trade places with Absalom – to give his own life for the one he loves. David is not alone in this feeling.

Many years later one from David’s line will give his life to save others from the chains of sin and death. God’s son Jesus will die in the place of you and me. Death will still come. Grief will still walk among us. Yet hope and faith assure us of life beyond this earth. Thanks be to God for the gift of eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the hope that sustains us in the midst of loss. Wrap us in your arms in those times that we grieve. Remind us of the victory already won. Amen.


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Playing Our Part

Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-6

Verses 5 and 6: “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”.

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Paul writes today about unity within the body of Christ – the church. Unity almost sounds like a foreign concept. Unity almost feels like an impossible dream. We seem to divide and separate over the smallest of things. Paul is seeing the churches he founded in and around Ephasus beginning to have fissures and cracks.

Inviting those in these churches to “live a life worthy of the calling”, Paul reminds them of some virtues to practice: humility, patience, gentleness, peace… To these he adds belief. In verses five and six he writes, “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”. Paul sees the church universal, not the church divided. Paul envisions the unity brought through Jesus Christ, not any divisions. I believe the same is still possible today. There are core beliefs that all churches have regardless of their denominational flavors: God, the creator of all things, sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to live out his love and to die to defeat the power of sin and death, paving the way for the salvation of our souls. You may word this or parts of it differently, but the ideas are the core of our faith.

The body of Christ can make the choice to live into unity instead of choosing division, to live into the core beliefs instead of accentuating differences and things that divide. Unity begins with each one of us – in our churches, then in our communities, then in our world. May we each commit to playing our part to bring unity to the body of Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the heart required to build unity. Lead me to elevate and value our core beliefs over our minor differences. May Jesus Christ become more of my focus. May our unity bring Christ the glory. Amen.


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Demonstration of Love

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11: 1-15

Verse 10: “He asked him, ‘Haven’t you just come from a distance? Why didn’t you go home'”?

Photo credit: John Towner

David is known as the greatest king that Israel ever had. Anointed by Samuel, he was filled with God’s Spirit. David’s list of accomplishments is long. Yet David was not perfect. We have today’s story of violence and deceit and murder. Later in life he fails to do the right thing with his children. That leads to civil war. David is far from being the only character in the Bible to do great things for God yet to sin greatly.

Finding out Bathsheba is pregnant David sends for Uriah, her husband. David wants to cover his tracks. But Uriah is honorable – he refuses the comforts of home while his commander and fellow soldiers are “camped in the open fields”. Even lots of alcohol doesn’t persuade Uriah to go home to Bathsheba. Perhaps unable to bear Uriah’s purity and integrity because it casts a harsh light on what he sees in himself, David sends Uriah back to war with a death notice in hand. The commander is instructed to set it up so Uriah will die.

Although we may not go to the ends that David goes, the truth is that we are all struggling with sin in our lives. My struggles with pride and control and the tongue may not seem to rise to the level of adultery and murder, but I shudder when I consider the cumulative effect of these sins. However, we also share another truth with David. No matter what we do, God continues to love us and to pursue us. That love leads God to ever be at work, bringing us to repentance and confession, to renewing our walk with the Lord. Through Nathan, God will redeem David too. What a demonstration of love – for David and for you and me. Thank you God!

Prayer: Lord God, even though my sin remains, your love is greater. Each time I fail I learn and grow. You are ever at work, shaping me to be who you want me to be. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Demonstration of Love

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11: 1-15

Verse 10: “He asked him, ‘Haven’t you just come from a distance? Why didn’t you go home'”?

Photo credit: John Towner

David is known as the greatest king that Israel ever had. Anointed by Samuel, he was filled with God’s Spirit. David’s list of accomplishments is long. Yet David was not perfect. We have today’s story of violence and deceit and murder. Later in life he fails to do the right thing with his children. That leads to civil war. David is far from being the only character in the Bible to do great things for God yet to sin greatly.

Finding out Bathsheba is pregnant David sends for Uriah, her husband. David wants to cover his tracks. But Uriah is honorable – he refuses the comforts of home while his commander and fellow soldiers are “camped in the open fields”. Even lots of alcohol doesn’t persuade Uriah to go home to Bathsheba. Perhaps unable to bear Uriah’s purity and integrity because it casts a harsh light on what he sees in himself, David sends Uriah back to war with a death notice in hand. The commander is instructed to set it up so Uriah will die.

Although we may not go to the ends that David goes, the truth is that we are all struggling with sin in our lives. My struggles with pride and control and the tongue may not seem to rise to the level of adultery and murder, but I shudder when I consider the cumulative effect of these sins. However, we also share another truth with David. No matter what we do, God continues to love us and to pursue us. That love leads God to ever be at work, bringing us to repentance and confession, to renewing our walk with the Lord. Through Nathan, God will redeem David too. What a demonstration of love – for David and for you and me. Thank you God!

Prayer: Lord God, even though my sin remains, your love is greater. Each time I fail I learn and grow. You are ever at work, shaping me to be who you want me to be. Thank you, Lord. Amen.